Philharmonic season off to an exhilarating start

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

How lucky we are to have such a sonorous and competent orchestra. The Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of José-Luis Novo, did itself proud Saturday evening (Oct. 1) with a performance of Niels Gade’s “In the Highlands,” Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488)” aand César Franck’s “Symphony in D Minor.”

A protégé of Schumann and Mendelssohn, Gade trained in Germany but was forced by political events to return to his native Denmark for most of his life. His “In the Highlands” contributed to a veritable fad for compositions with Scottish themes among romantic composers, among them Mendelssohn, Schumann and Bruch. Being a relatively short piece, it made a very melodious “overture” to the evening with the Philharmonic.

The main course of the first half of the concert was the piano concerto, written by Mozart in his late 20s. Sara Davis Buechner, an internationally acclaimed pianist now based in British Columbia, performed with complete command and an elegant touch. However, although very expertly accompanied by the orchestra, she occasionally was submerged by their sound.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Franck’s only symphony, composed just before his death in 1890. Later 19th century composers lived in the shadow of Beethoven’s symphonic masterpieces, and, henc,e some were reluctant to enter that genre. Franck was revered in his lifetime as a teacher of composition, but his compositions, many for organ, only became widely appreciated after his death. His symphony is a large, very interesting and demanding piece, expertly using all the resources of the orchestra. Its many memorable themes are developed extensively, and, somewhat unusually, themes from earlier movements reappear in later movements. Also less conventionally, themes are brought forth by all sections of the orchestra: cellos voice the initial themes in the first and last movements, and the harp and English horn take leading roles in the middle movement.

The Philharmonic played with great energy and feeling, and solos by the principal players, especially among the winds, were expertly done. The Osterhout Concert Theatre at Binghamton University’s Anderson Center was almost full, and with performances like this one, it should be filled every time in the future. The theme of the year is most apt: “Exhilarating. Real. Live. Music.”

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