Things are starting to get interesting over at Maryland Hall.
Randall Fleischer, assistant conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, entered the Annapolis Symphony's 1990-1991 conducting derby this weekend with a pair of concerts featuring Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony, the Third Violin Concerto of Camille Saint-Saens and the premiere performance of Washingtonian Scott Pender's "Solemn Overture."
Fleischer is a young musician who cuts a very intense figure on the podium and performs Tchaikovsky to match. Directness and clarity are adjectives that describe his music-making and I think he took the orchestra an admirable distance into the very demanding "Pathetique" with only a minimal amount of rehearsal time.
A product of Tchaikovsky's deeply personal awareness of human tragedy and death, the "Pathetique" has seen more than its share of throbbing, large-scale performances.
This wasn't one of them. Incisively rendered, Fleischer's "Pathetique" eschewed the glossy super-charged approach and became instead a fitful, tense exploration of the work's varied emotional terrain.
While smaller in scale than most "Pathetiques" you'll hear -- I counted a mere half-dozen violas -- the strengths of this performance were many.
The opening of the first movement was expressive and unhurried, as was the famous second theme. The extended clarinet solo was beautifully delivered and a churning climax was reached. Only the gentle triplets of the third theme failed to settle in convincingly; the interlude seemed breathless to me.
The second movement was delivered more brusquely than usual, with gracefulness taking a back seat to urgency. Often, this 5/4 melody comes off sounding like a gently syncopated waltz, but not here.
The crackling energy of the third movement came through convincingly, though Fleischer seemed to be asking for more than the brass would give him. The heart-stopping conclusion was deeply felt, fully expressive of a man resigned to his fate.
The "Pathetique" is a tall order. I would venture to say that Fleischer worked efficiently with the ASO to bring the players as far inside the piece as they got. Playing throughout the symphony was alert, committed and of high quality.
The Saint-Saens is not the most universally admired work in the violin literature. (George Bernard Shaw once described it as "trivially pretty scraps of serenade music sandwiched between pages from the great masters") but Alyssa Park's exciting and beautiful playing made it sound like a masterpiece.
Stories of young virtuosos who can "do it all" have become commonplace these days, but I have a feeling that this young native of the Cincinnati area just may be the real thing. She possesses gorgeous tone, flawless intonation, a tasteful, unaffected sense of phrasing and a bionic bow arm.
Most importantly, her technical gifts seems fully at the service of music she plays, which means she is well on her way to becoming an artist, and not just the latest competition "phenom" to be filed and forgotten. I'd love to hear her play the Beethoven and Brahms concertos one day. She's gifted in a big way.
Fleischer proved to be a considerate, ingratiating accompanist on the podium. What few disagreements of tempo there were remained minor and "within the family." He possesses a supple beat and was most supportive of the rubato passages that made Park's account breathe so naturally, though I thought the orchestra might have provided a more buoyant touch in the final movement.
What a lovely piece Scott Pender's "Solemn Overture" is.
One additional comment. It's nice of the ASO to provide doorkeepers for these concerts, but someone in authority might want to explain some things to these befuddled sentinels. Why on earth were numerous latecomers allowed to saunter down the aisle and seat themselves disruptively during Pender's lovely piece? Repeat after me, folks: If you're late, you wait. It even rhymes.