This evening’s ASO concert was full of beauty and power realized by some great soloists under a well managed baton wielded by Maestro Spano. It began with Shostakovitch’s Symphony no. 14, which is scored for soprano and bass vocalists with a chamber orchestra made up of strings and percussion. The vocal parts are Russian translations of 11 poems by Lorca, Apollinaire, Kuchelbecker, and Rilke, all of which revolve around death through a variety of perspectives. Despite this, the music isn’t all grim and brooding and is actually somewhat lively at times. There was something throughout the piece that came across sometimes as abstract and almost alienating and others as somewhat contemplative, as though the music is thinking about the poems, turning them around in different ways to try to get to the real meaning. The soloists for the piece were soprano Tatiana Monogarova and bass Morris Robinson. The vocalists were both excellent: Robinson’s low notes were clear and strong and Monogarova’s performance was dramatic and moving. The third movement in particular, based on Apollinaire’s ‘Loreley,’ nearly brought me to tears and I found the fourth, based on Apollinaire’s ‘Le Suicide,’ only slightly less moving. The low strings are very prominent in this piece and cellist Daniel Laufer gave a stand-out performance, particularly when giving solo accompaniment to Monogarova.
After the intermission, Simon Trpceski soloed in a particularly engaging performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2. Unfortunately, a gentleman who seemed to be writhing for some reason, had some very squeaky shoes that managed to disrupt the more gentle parts of the first movement, which made it really hard for me to enjoy it. Fortunately, someone sitting near him did manage to get him to be more mindful of it so I was able to enjoy the remaining two movements.
What stood out to me about Trpceski’s performance was his attention to the orchestra and an interesting lack of showboating in a piece that is well designed for just that. His playing was expressive without being dramatic. He refrained from dramatically drawing out pauses or seeing how many f’s he could put into forte parts and, in doing so, brought out some of the more subtle parts of the piece. Although there was no doubt that his piano was the star of the piece, he also seemed to be playing as though his part were an equal part of the orchestra, like it was one giant ensemble rather than soloist and orchestra accompaniment.
I really enjoyed this sense of unity and it almost made me wish that he wouldn’t play an encore since I didn’t want to think of him merely as a soloist. However, when he did play an encore my concerns in this regard were quickly eschewed as he shared the stage with Monogarova, performing two of Rachmaninov’s songs for Soprano: Lilacs and I Wait for Thee. At least I think that the second piece was I Wait for Thee; I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not certain even though he did announce it. Lilacs was so beautiful that I teared up and was only partially paying attention to the second piece because I was still so lost in the first. I don’t think that I’ve ever enjoyed an encore as much as I did this one: it was the perfect end to a really good concert.