It has been almost one year since the notes of the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra have graced the extravagantly beautiful interior of Chapin Hall, which recently reopened after construction and refurbishing.
The audience was not disappointed: The orchestra presented yet another enjoyable performance of the classical masters Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms on Friday.
As the lights died down, Ronald Feldman, the conductor and artist in residence, took large strides to the stage in his usual swift and elegant manner and commenced a bold phrase slightly familiar to the ear. It was Beethoven’s “Overture to Fidelio,” written in 1814. Particularly as an overture to the only opera Beethoven wrote, this piece is not overwhelmingly heavy, but at the same time it introduced the drama with sufficient intensity in the few fortissimo phrases that predominated over the smooth and taut dialogues of the opening.
The overture was actually completed and heard three days after the initial performance of the opera, for Beethoven had neglected to write it until the very last minute. The composer himself admitted that he had difficulty rendering the music with a light touch while leaving a forceful impression at the same time. Similarly, it is equally challenging to balance the dynamics of fragility and gravity; in this respect, the symphony did an astonishing job, apart from a few moments of monotonous blare towards the end.
The second piece of the concert was Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat; the symphony performed the three movements “Allegro,” “Andante ma Adagio” and “Rondo.” The bassoon, rarely exhibited in solos or concertos, is an understated instrument lauded for its singing tone and accessibility. The soloist Judith LeClair, a renowned first bassoonist in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with extensive experience as a chamber musician and soloist, enthralled the audience with her ability. Almost effortlessly, she showcased her particular ability to overcome the extremely difficult arpeggio ascends and descends, in addition to conveying the warmth that gives her instrument the human quality capable of rendering both subtle melancholy and tenderness. Her sonorous playing was well-suited to interpret the brilliance and playful grace of Mozart.
After the intermission, Brahms’ unconventional and melodic piece Symphony No. 1 balanced the second half of the concert. The first movement, “Un poco sostenuto – Allegro,” slowly introduced the interesting, dissonant sounds in a melodic way, the seamless string playing producing a slightly menacing effect. While some critics condemned it as a dry and unappetizing musical exercise, it was Brahms’ great contribution to spread elaborate developed motifs throughout the music, gradually climbing to a delightful apex. The second movement, “Andante sostenuto,” consisted of the interweaving of majestic major and bittersweet minor, while the third movement, “Un poco Allegretto e grazioso,” featuring many woodwind instruments, pleased the audience with its idyllic breadth, portrayed by the strings’ cascades of lyrical phrases.
“Adagio-Allegro non troppo, ma con brio,” the most famous of the four movements, was a thrilling combination of Brahms’ invention of slowly-developing motifs and his deceivingly simple melodic lines. The orchestra conveyed with sensitivity the nuances in string variations, such as legato bowings and pizzicatos. Having been hailed as the “savior of German music” by his good friend Robert Schumann, it was inevitable that Brahms felt a significant amount of pressure, as he was forced to live up to Beethoven’s example and continue to improve his symphonies. It is in such reverence that the finale gradually ascends to spectacular grandeur, and as such is often compared to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Although the subject matter was undoubtedly fascinating, in the end it was the orchestra’s ability and versatility in making the great masterpieces accessible to the audience that garnered the groups a standing ovation at the end of the performance.