YOUNGSTOWN SYMPHONY Concerto makes for strong finish to Masterworks season

Kalichstein does the heavy lifting in demanding pieces.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Headliner Joseph Kalichstein was a powerful, colorful, intense and expressive in a performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto at Saturday night's Youngstown Symphony Masterworks season finale.
Kalichstein began energetically with a crystal-clear first movement. The oboe solo work was colorful, but marred by some reed problems. Principal clarinetist Deborah Alexander's clarinet solo was excellent and Kalichstein's ensuing cadenza was fiery, with wonderful trills and a marvelous long ritardando leading to the coda.
Kalichstein is known as a chamber music specialist and regularly performs the trio repertoire. In a few instances, wrong notes marred a near-perfect solo performance that was especially luminous in contrapuntal passages.
The Schumann first movement has great formal strength and originally appeared as a separate piece under the title, "Concerto Allegro."
The second movement, "Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso," clearly in A B A form, was expressive and well-balanced, with lovely interchanges between piano and orchestra. A finely composed first-movement, first-theme recurrence led without pause to the "Allegro vivace," a beautiful closing movement.
Other than a few muddy orchestral passages and some piano miscues, the performance was quite effective and full of wonderful rhythmic subtleties.
A beautiful fugato led by the strings was followed by expressive exchanges between Kalichstein and the principal oboe. Notwithstanding some technical flaws, the entire performance, directed by Isaiah Jackson, was unusually expressive. Kalichstein needed little coaxing to perform the wonderful Chopin F Sharp Minor Noctune, Opus 48 No. 2, as an exquisite encore.
Strong second half
Rachmaninoff's 35-minute Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, the composer's final work, took the evening's second half by storm. Cary F. Yelin, the symphony's excellent program annotator, rightly described Rachmaninoff as heir to the melancholy and intensity of Tchaikovsky.
The first movement's marchlike nature, supported by extensive percussion, timpani, piano and harp, was enlivened with lively flute, oboe and English horn solos. The more ingratiating middle section had beautiful alto saxophone solo work by Dana Master's graduate, Angel Negrin. The sax's dialogue with solo oboe was glorious. The dark colors were especially noticeable in Bb clarinets and bass clarinet.
The second movement waltz began with beautiful muted horns and a powerful and expressive solo by concertmaster Calvin Lewis. Strong solos in oboe and English horn were followed by a serene first violin thematic entry and some nice open brass passages and string pizzicatos.
Unlike the Schumann Piano Concerto's intense structurally strong third movement and interestingly complex hemiolas, the Rachmaninoff's third movement bogs down in its own complexity. Slow sections remained effective, but these gave way to overly-long and rather obvious sequences degenerating into a pyrotechnic but prosaic circus music-like close.

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