Symphony’s return to traditional fare pleases audiences

The Berkshire Symphony delivered its most traditional concert in recent memory to a packed Chapin Hall Saturday night, featuring Rossini’s overture to Il Signor Bruschino, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major with Miriam Fried, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The choice of the beloved Beethoven repertoire showcased the talents of both the soloist Fried and the orchestra itself.

Channeling the light-hearted mood of Halloween evening, several members of the orchestra donned red clown noses for the performance of the playful Rossini overture. The overture highlighted a back-and-forth dialogue amongst sections of the orchestra, particularly between the violins and the low strings. Surprisingly though, the rarely featured wood block stole the show with its repeated solo lines, eliciting giggles from the audience.

After the overture, off came the clown noses and on came the Beethoven. Fried took the stage with a festive presence, wearing a floor-length black dress and orange shawl. The concerto began hesitantly in the winds, but the orchestra soon settled in. Fried’s singing vibrato gave life to the staid melodic lines, and her agile fingers danced up and down the violin in her impressive cadenzas.

While she was expressive throughout, I was more dazzled by her commanding delivery and technical virtuosity in the first and third movements, rather than her slightly flat performance of the slower, more lyrical material of the second movement. Additionally, her statement of the main theme of the third movement in the lower range was a bit awkward, but she more than compensated with her effortlessly pure high notes.

The orchestra balanced her virtuosity with luxuriously long lines and a few gorgeous wind solos, especially from the bassoon. The opening of the second movement featured the orchestra’s gentle sensitivity, marred only by a few exposed French horn cracks. The only issue between soloist and orchestra appeared to be the occasional disagreement over tempo. At times, Fried seemed to want to push or pull the tempo, but the orchestra did not immediately comply. This is always a tricky issue, especially when rehearsal time with a guest soloist is limited. Aside from these tempo discrepancies, the orchestra provided a solid accompaniment to the skilled Fried.

The orchestra closed the evening with Beethoven’s joyful Symphony No. 7. The winds opened the first movement with pure round tones; however, the violins stumbled a few times on their ascending scales in the opening theme. While the violins had occasional blips in their melody lines and even seemed buried by the rest of the orchestra in the fourth movement, the low strings were solid throughout. The somber opening of the second movement showed off the resonance of the low strings and their great dynamic contrast.

The brass, which did not have much of a role prior to this piece, stepped up in the first movement with an overwhelmingly powerful statement of the second theme. The rest of the symphony had its ups and downs for the brass; the trombones felt a tad too droning in the third movement, and the brass simply were not present enough until their last hurrah in the final movement.

The orchestra as a whole came together best in the third movement. They played the light, dancing theme with brilliant energy, and created a stark contrast with the smoother, more relaxed section following it.

The combination of the orchestra’s solid playing, Fried’s impressive performance, and the conventional but wonderful repertoire made for an enjoyable musical evening.