The Russian pianist was sure-handed and confident.
By ROBERT ROLLIN
The Youngstown Symphony Orchestra presented its excellent "Opening Night -- Northern Lights" program Saturday night in Edward W. Powers Auditorium, under the able guest conductor Peter Breiner, joined by guest Russian & eacute;migr & eacute; pianist, Vladimir Feltsman.
The two combined with the symphony in an energetic and expressive performance of the "Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5" in E-flat major, one of the chestnuts of the concerto literature.
From the opening tutti chord and the immediate, written-out piano cadenza, it is clear that this is an unusually innovative piece. Until this time it was rare, indeed, to jump into such a virtuoso display so early in the opening movement. Feltsman played the difficult opening passages with sure-handed poise and confidence, with equal dexterity in both hands, and with an almost offhand attitude appropriate to their ornamental character.
The second theme, introduced by the horn and timpani, has a more rustic character, though Beethoven delays modulation until the piano returns with developmental treatment.
Throughout the first movement performance Breiner controlled dynamics with a sure hand, making certain that the soft passages contrasted with delicacy, and carefully keeping pace with Feltsman's fine nuances of dynamics and tempo. The cooperative balance between soloist and orchestra enabled the audience to hear the main lines as well as the ornamental display in the piano figuration.
How it went
The delicate opening to the adagio movement, employing muted violins against the plucked, open low strings, was charming, as was Feltsman's rendition of the piano solo. He showed great skill in the elided transition from the slow movement to the raucously rustic and dancelike rondo.
Orchestra and soloist performed well throughout, except for a few intonation flubs in bassoon and horns, a missed trumpet entrance, and some articulation differences between soloist and orchestra on downbeats. Notwithstanding, the rendition had great energy, expressiveness and enthusiasm, and Feltsman treated the audience to a lovely romantic encore.
The rest of the evening consisted of two works by great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius: the early and patriotic "Finlandia," a short gem that has great meaning to the Finnish people, and the expansively powerful "Second Symphony," an intense and explosive melange of the composer's inner struggles coupled with the austere beauty of his remote native land.
Sibelius has a formidable musical persona: a style that involves fragmented ideas and rapidly changing orchestral color. A brooding quality is especially evident in the "Second Symphony" second theme of the first movement, the restless intensity and anguish of the andant & eacute;, the dramatic contrast between opening of the vivacissimo and its slower, more soloistic middle section, and the wonderful half-step bass motive of the final & eacute;. The symphony did an excellent job, with the brass section and timpani performing with poise, consistency and power, and all soloistic treatments well-played.