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Monday, February 03, 2020

Clouds in the Hall, Clouds in the Sky

From the Vault Dept.: I mentioned in last Friday’s post the situation that emerged as I took on the post of classical-music reviewer for Albany’s Knickerbocker News. I was already writing for Metroland, the area’s alternative newsweekly (or soon-to-be; it was on the verge of changing its stripes, so to speak), but the Knick News wanted exclusivity. So I spent several months publishing in Metroland under the pseudonym George Gordon (there’s an abstruse connection) until a goofy press person phoned the Knick News “looking for George, or Byron, or whatever he’s calling himself now.” The Knick News editor clutched his pearls and indignantly fired me. This for twenty dollars an article. The paper went under soon under, but I take no credit for its demise. Here’s the first piece of mine that ran in that periodical.


SEVERAL MEMBERS of the Houston Symphony Orchestra were delighted to see the 18 inches of newly fallen snow at the Albany County Airport. They rarely have snow in their home city. Although the weather made local traveling difficult, it did not stop a small but enthusiastic  audience from enjoying the orchestra’s concert Wednesday at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady.

Sergiu Comissiona
Andre-Michel Schub, soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, was the star of the concert. Beethoven wrote the concerto to show off his prowess as a pianist, and with Schub at the keyboard, the work was in good hands.

Schub has a startling dynamic control of the keyboard, which he used effectively to bring out the contrasts in the work without giving way to too much storminess. The concerto abounds with humor, which was tastefully handled: The soloist doesn’t always enter when, according to the tradition established by Mozart, he would be expected to; what is set up as a cadenza in the  second movement is interrupted by the orchestra; and the rondo begins with a theme which must rank as one of the silliest Beethoven ever used, sounding like a childish taunt that heralds a brisk workout for soloist and orchestra.

Under the direction of Sergiu Comissiona. the Houston provided superb backing for Schub, with well-matched tempos and dynamics.

The first of two orchestral pieces on the program was “Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance” by Samuel Barber. Written in 1935, it was based on material Barber used in a suite commissioned for dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. It is about 12 minutes long, building in tension unitl it erupts in fury.

Comissiona wisely emphasized the tension of the piece, making the finale a logical release of that tension rather than allowing it to become chaotic, as can easily happen.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 closed the concert. Tchaikovsky began the piece when he was 26; subsequently, he attempted to downgrade its value. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant, effervescent work, more intimate than his last three, better-known symphonies.

What problems the orchestra had during the evening came out in this part of the program, as occasionally the winds and strings failed to answer one another when a thme was quickly tossed from section to section. The second movement, subtitled “Desolate Land, Land of Mists,” featured a lovely trio of oboe, flute and bassoon; the fourth movement, after a slow, folk-song introduction, gave the full orchestra a chance to shine as Tchaikovsky pulled out all stops in a loud, brassy finale.

The orchestra’s sound was enhanced by the new acoustical clouds Proctor’s has acquired and promises to use for similar concerts.

Albany Knickerbocker News, 17 March 1984

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