Review by Judith Caldwell The National Academy Orchestra’s (NAO) latest concert entitled ‘From Tchaikovsky to Ravel’ featured some energetic, well-performed pieces interspersed with new work. The concert opened with a composition by Ana Sokolovic commissioned for the NAC Orchestra, entitled Ringelspiel, which means merry-go-round. It is meant to conjure up both the ride-on variety and the toy table-top variety to transport the audience back to childhood simplicity. The piece was unmelodic and the rhythms so fractured that it was difficult to find an access point. The use of an extreme range of strings to create scratchy, screechy sounds made it less than endearing.
In the final section, the merry-go-round was supposed to be broken and it certainly sounded as if it was.
Ravel’s Concerto in G major completed the first half of the concert. This work for piano and small orchestra begins with a marvelously showy crack of the whip. This was expertly tossed off by piano soloist Sara Davis Buechner. Then the music hustles through Gershwin’s jazzy influence towards the pivotal adagio which begins with a solo piano introduction.
The third movement, presto, is very energetic, virtuosic and glittery with lots of crossed hands. Buechner displayed a deep understanding of the work filled with brilliant contrasts and demonstrated amazing athleticism. After a well deserved ovation, the audience was treated to some beautiful Gershwin as an encore.
After intermission, the NAO played Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 in E minor. This is a huge major work in the same four movement structure used by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Yet it manages to sound distinctly Russian. All four movements are equally familiar and beloved.
The first two movements were conducted by Karl Hirzer, Apprentice Conductor, and the remaining two movements were conducted by Boris Brott.
The opening Andante is a brooding funereal introduction to the theme, which recurs throughout each movement, tying them together in an emotionally raw, musically breathtaking composition. The second movement begins with the dark richness of the cellos. Then the lovely theme progresses through the horns and clarinets to add contrast and drama.
The third movement, Valse, is light and airy but still maintains the dark undertones of the theme. The Finale is grand, stately and sweeping. Brott literally jumped for emphasis and various orchestra members were barely able to remain seated while playing the rousing music.
This year’s NAO is really, really good and this was a triumphant performance much appreciated by the audience. Go to Brottmusic.com for more information about the final two concerts for 2016.