August 14, 2022

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ALBANY — Grand journeys and storybook escapades flooded out from the stage during the four...

ALBANY — Grand journeys and storybook escapades flooded out from the stage during the four vivid pieces played by the Albany Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening at the Palace.  
In planning the program, music director David Alan Miller took care of some unfinished business – completing a recording of concertos by the late Christopher Rouse.  Framing the concertos for trumpet and bassoon, Miller led powerhouse classics by Strauss and Tchaikovsky.

Star trumpeter and ASO principal Eric Berlin played the hero in Rouse’s “Heimdall’s Trumpet,” the title being a reference to the Nordic god whose trumpet blasts heralded Armageddon. Given that heavy set up, Rouse’s score is unexpectedly transparent and fast moving.  Berlin delivered the winding lines and mounting drama with off the cuff ease and a solid unstrained tone, aided by a battery of unusual mutes. 

In the bassoon concerto, soloist Peter Kolkay was just as impressive, even if his instrument just doesn’t speak with the same force. Rouse enshrines it with a cheerful and frolicking orchestra, something like a fairy tale, another surprise from a composer known for his affinity to power rock.  Yet Kolkay’s agile abilities and the bassoon’s inherently melancholy character still came through best when the orchestra was silent or close to it.

The program opened with Strauss’ “Don Juan,” the only true narrative of the night though who can follow its many conquests.  The ripe music surged and seduced from the start.  You would have never known the players had no warmup for the taxing night. A suite from Tchaikovsky “Nutcracker” drew heavily from the ballet’s second act, which has all the memorable character dancers.  It was a clever choice and provided the rare treat of hearing eternally enchanting music live and full force, not as a movie soundtrack or accompaniment to shopping.

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People are asking about the whereabouts of concert master Jill Levy, who’s been absent all season.  According to an ASO spokesperson, she’s on leave for an indeterminate duration of time, an option given to all members upon the resumption of concerts.

There were 200 households watching the digital stream and about 950 people in the hall.  The in-person attendance remains low compared to pre-pandemic numbers, but is still impressive given the non-traditional programming.   Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.

Concert review Albany Symphony OrchestraDavid Alan Miller, conductor When: 7:30 p.m. SaturdayWhere: Palace Theatre, AlbanyLength: Two hours, 15 minutes;  one intermission

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