At ASO, Tchaikovsky's `Pathetique' lacks emotional depth


Arundel Live


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony is a valedictory work par excellence.

The last of the great Russian composer's six symphonies, it summoned up the deepest emotions Tchaikovsky had to offer. Ringing, heroic statements conclude Symphonies 4 and 5, but Pathetique's ending is wreathed in sadness, resignation, and a sense of submission to one's fate.

Tchaikovsky, who died days after the work's premiere, felt Pathetique's power firsthand, referring to it as his most beloved musical offspring, and expressing proprietary pride in the beautiful sounds his emotional odyssey had inspired.

For all its turbulent emotions, Pathetique lends itself to any number of interpretive approaches. A listener can thrash about and weep bitter tears with Leonard Bernstein, brood as only a Slav can brood with Yevgeny Mravinsky, or suffer life's slings and arrows nobly, with head held high, courtesy of Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

But whatever the mindset, a successful Pathetique must come at the listener in sustained waves of emotion, with nothing sounding the least bit episodic or glib.

I say all this because it was just that sense of inevitability - of emotions cresting inexorably, one into the other - that I felt missing Friday evening when the Annapolis Symphony took on the Pathetique under the baton of Jose-Luis Novo. For despite interludes of undeniable excitement, especially in the hyperactive march of the third movement, this was a reading that remained on the surface, without plumbing the depths.

The opening to movement one failed to click immediately, with out-of-tune horns and ragged ensemble detracting from Tchaikovsky's all-important sense of atmosphere. (Some unwelcome clangs from Maryland Hall's venerable heating system didn't help either.)

Movement two's famous "waltz that isn't," with its irregular 5/4 tempo, sounded graceful and pleasant (nothing more), while the sighs and cries of movement four seemed generalized and detached.

The most expressive playing came from Kathleen Mulcahy, who recently was named the ASO's second clarinet but was performing from the principal's chair last weekend. Her statements of the main theme, which flowed in so gently from the quiet spaces in movement one, were exquisite.

Additional poetry graced the hall in the playing of pianist Orion Weiss, whose supple right hand and thunderous left were put to superb use in the First Piano Concerto of Franz Liszt, one of the crowd-pleasers of the Romantic idiom. The 23-year-old has appearances with the orchestras of Los Angeles, Minnesota, Baltimore, Rochester, N.Y., and Indianapolis to his credit, and for good reason. It was a feather in the ASO's cap to have him here, though what Liszt's E-flat Concerto was doing on a program subtitled "Fate in Music" is anybody's guess.

What is about fate is Giuseppe Verdi's overture to La Forza del Destino (The Power of Destiny), which was well played, but again a little short on the metaphysics.

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