Any psychiatrist listening to Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A Minor today would know the 19th-century composer was prone to severe mood swings. The piece is full of manic melancholia.
Soloist Nicholas Canellakis and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra on Sunday captured all the joy and anguish Schumann poured into the piece when he composed it in a burst of creativity in 1850. Four years later, he would be institutionalized at his own request and he’d die there in 1856.
The concerto is made up of three movement but each flows seamlessly into the next without pauses. Schumann’s wife, Clara Schumann, described “the highly interesting interweaving of violincello and orchestra [as] indeed wholly ravishing.”
Canellakis played with passion and precision as if Clara Schumann were whispering in his ear. He embraced all of the roiling, raw emotion in the piece and offered a glimpse into the troubled soul of one of world’s most gifted composers.
While Schumann’s concerto sounded deeply personal, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E flat major was profoundly political. Written in 1945 after the Second World War, it celebrates the people’s joy at the conflict’s end but also mocks Josef Stalin as a clownish leader.
Conductor Lucas Richman has not programmed as many Russian composers as did his predecessor Christopher Zimmerman, who led the orchestra from 1994 until 2001, but each time he does, the musicians embrace the challenge as they did Sunday.
While Shostakovich’s Ninth is not considered to be one of his major works, it is as deep and diverse, although not as long as his other symphonic works with solos for clarinet, flute and bassoon. The orchestra embraced all of its complexities, rewarding concertgoers with a rich and insightful interpretation of the music.
Sunday’s concert, titled Schumann & Shostakovich, came close to equally the spectacular opening concert of the season. Richman continues to challenge the musicians and audience with complex and demanding works. The juxtaposition of these two works — both full of sorrow and joy, personally and politically — sent concertgoers off into a cold north wind comforted and warmed by the music of two masters.