A brilliant horn call reached our ears, and the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Ronald Feldman, burst into joyful song with Haydn’s lively Symphony in D major, the first piece of Friday evening’s program in the ’62 Center’s MainStage. The symphony bounded forward in rapid counts of three, ornamented by the flute with nimble, fluttering phrases. The energy accumulated within the first minutes of music was restrainedly suspended over the silence bridging two separate parts of this symphony. The slow movement, in G major, lent time to the development of more elaborate and songful solos from the principal violin, the principal cello and, of course, the horns. Before the close of the movement, the violin and the cello eloquently conversed in music. Still in a triple meter, this movement provided rest from the full sound of the musicians playing together in the other three parts of the symphony, and carried the energy into a faster, lighter, dance-like movement. Many solo instruments – from the flute, effortlessly and cheerfully soaring over the orchestra, to the charming bass – were featured in a splendid display of virtuosic prowess, taking turns through the medium of a theme, followed by a number of sprightly variations.
Mozart’s enigmatic Sinfonia Concertante commenced and with a melodic turn disappeared into thin air as if gracefully defying musical gravity, all while the orchestra’s sound adeptly faded along an upwards scale, anticipating the entrance of the soloists. In a similarly careful manner, the orchestra displayed exceptional sensitivity to the soloists, watching, listening and reacting quickly. Working as a team, the skillful quartet of wind instruments provided a pleasing contrast to the ensemble of string instruments. The oboist had a large number of long, lyrical solos, exchanging lines with the fluid sound of the clarinet, whereas the horn and bassoon displayed prowess in duet accompaniment. There are few things more beautiful and pleasant in orchestral classical music than the contrast created when solo winds and strings exchange phrases, and one can appreciate the richness of harmony created by the successful mixing of multiple sonorous and well-executed lines of music in the context of the unique texture each instrument lends to the whole.
Continuing in the classical vein despite a leap into the 20th century, the second half of the program began with Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat, an expression of the composer’s neoclassical phase. An interesting selection of works that are unexpectedly connected to each other challenges the listener to continue thinking about the program. Through this music, Stravinsky merged new experiences and modern musical idioms that he pioneered in an earlier period, with the classical musical structures used by 18th-century composers like Haydn and Mozart. The result is staggering and promptly engaging. Written in the late 1930s, immediately preceding Stravinsky’s move to America, the short concerto sparkles with colors from beginning to end. Bows were ricocheting across strings with stubborn momentum, interweaving with shooting rays of sound from the clarinet and horns, sometimes providing a backdrop for the complex flute and cello solos. The small ensemble and quick conductor, working as one unit, expertly, and expressively, navigated the metric changes and rhythmic demands of the piece.
Something awe-inspiring happened during the final piece. The lush sound of the violins and violas was impressively amplified and enriched by the solid sound of cellos and basses. These were sweeping, but troubled, moving, but questioning, phrases of music. Mixing mystery with mirth, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, written by Vaughn-Williams – a 20th-century English composer – seemed to represent a journey towards daylight, but then the liberating, unfettered music arched back towards its darker beginning. The return of the ponderous opening phrases was a hint of a greater truth embedded in the music. Vaughn-Williams and Stravinsky shared an awareness for the possibilities of creatively reinvigorating older music through their own work. Each recognized the importance of his musical heritage and based his orchestral piece on the work of a much older composer. While a thoughtful artist renews old melodies through his appreciation of tradition, a performance by a fine group of musicians renews appreciation for the way in which classical music not only asks questions and demands thought, but also can ennoble, inform and elevate the listener.