Two exceptional women brought the Albany Symphony Orchestra to life Saturday evening, in a concert featuring the new and the old masters.
Guest conductor Karina Canellakis strode to the podium and commanded instant authority. Combined with youth and a swinging blond ponytail, her expertise with the orchestra was breathtaking. In a very clear, crisp style, and using medium-slow tempos, she brought out the best in the orchestra and allowed all the parts to be heard, as well as the interweaving melodic lines. The ASO responded with a quality performance that was splendid, especially in the pieces by Beethoven and Brahms.
The second notable woman was Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon, composer of "Dance Card," a spirited three-movement work for string orchestra. There was a definite Copland-esque quality to the music, in its bouncing chords and pandiatonic tonality, with even a hint of a fugue in the third movement.
This made for a nice segue to the Triple Concerto by Beethoven. The three young soloists were outstanding — Elena Urioste, violin, Nicholas Canellakis, cello (and the brother of the conductor) and Michael Brown, piano. They played with great familiarity with each other's technique, the cellist being the strongest of the three. Canellakis was, in fact, outstanding in his playing, with a sweet tone and vivacious accuracy.
The most interesting music was with the soloists, whose intricate melodies blended so well, while the orchestra mainly was accompaniment, except at crucial loud tutti sections.
The Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E-Minor, the composer's last symphony, is a powerhouse, with continuously unfolding lines and organic growth. Brahms was a choral conductor and composer of dozens of gorgeous art and choral songs, and this lyrical style pervades the rest of his work, including this Fourth Symphony. Canellakis' modest tempos allowed the audience to hear all the subtleties and interior melodic lines.
The horn playing in their solos and duets during the first two movements was inspiring. The third movement bursts with life and energy, along with the extreme drama of the fourth, and the ASO nailed it each time. This is the best I have ever heard the orchestra play and, apparently, the ensemble has reached a new level of excellence. How special that is.