ASO season opens on an emotional note


September 22, 2006|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,special to the sun

Everywhere you looked at last Friday's concert by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, something special was happening. It was the opening performance of the orchestra's 46th season.

By programming the searing 10th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, the ASO and its conductor, Jose-Luis Novo, joined the music world in paying tribute to the great Russian composer in this, his centennial year.

The orchestra also welcomed back its laureate conductor, Leon Fleisher, the renowned concert pianist and conductor who put the ASO on the map during his 12-year tenure (1970-1982).

Fleisher also returned to Maryland Hall as a two-handed artist playing the grand Emperor concerto of Beethoven.

For nearly four decades, focal dystonia - a disorder in his right hand - had kept Fleisher from performing most of the great works composed for the piano.

Now cured of the malady that had reduced his repertoire to the relatively few works composed for the left hand, Fleisher is recording and playing concerts again.

What an immense joy it was to hear him at work on Beethoven's fifth concerto, a work Fleisher had recorded as a young man with George Szelland of the Cleveland Orchestra in a bristling traversal of the score that's still one of the great Emperors you can buy.

At age 78, Fleisher's Beethoven no longer bristles, but my, how it glows. Nothing is rushed. Indeed, the composer's inimitable harmonies are treated as old friends fully deserving of quality time from the soloist.

There was plenty of visceral excitement to complement the joy of watching an old master reveling in Beethoven's miraculous music and in the gift of being able to enter it fully again.

During orchestral passages, Fleisher turned himself in toward the orchestra, listening intently and taking in the efforts of his younger colleagues who sounded thrilled to be sharing the stage with such a legendary partner.

In response, the musicians and Novo joined him as graciously as could be.

As if to honor even further the artistic efforts undertaken by Maestro Fleisher in the orchestra's early days, the contemporary ASO unleashed a nasty, unremittingly exciting Shostakovich 10th that showed off the strengths of the ensemble that already has been reconfigured during Novo's brief tenure.

From every quarter of the orchestra - flute, clarinet, oboe and French horns in particular - Shostakovich's evocation of a Russian nation laid bare the murderous excesses of the Stalin era.

From desolation to terror , the emotional states rolled by as the power of the playing communicated the magnificence of Shostakovich's symphonic vision.

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