Disturbing Shostakovich, delicious Beethoven lead another balanced BPO performance

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

It’s not a tune you’d go home humming. World-class cellist Amit Peled declared his adversarial relationship with his cello in the grim five-note motif within the first bar of the work, creating a tension that soon rose to a shriek. Hysterics, grimness, angst — these are all adjectives that came to mind when listening to him perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Cello Concerto No. 1” with the Binghamton Philharmonic Sunday (Jan. 29) at Binghamton University’s Anderson Center.
Shostakovich penned this work for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich during a period when the Soviet Union had cast the composer into Soviet limbo, his livelihood taken, his very life in jeopardy. It’s no wonder that the music is characterized by alternating emotions of fierce anger and extreme longing.
Although Peled played the work with incredible competence, and his communication with the orchestra was in lockstep perfection, I can’t say I liked the piece. I doubt if anyone can do more than admire it. It made me long for a lyrical piece, which, thank goodness, the BPO provided both with Mendelssohn’s “The Fair Melusine Overture,” Op. 32 and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36.”
Melusine is a mermaid who marries the Count of Lusignan in the hope that he will not discover her real form. He swears to let her leave alone once a month, but he disobeys and follows her to a lake where he discovers her secret. Reminiscent of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” the delightful pastoral work was performed with loving and lyrical sing-ability.
The Beethoven was to die for. Utterly transparent, it abounds with dangerous stops and starts. Much to the orchestra’s credit, not a single unintended solo occurred. The sudden dynamic shifts, representing Beethoven’s erratic hearing at a time when his deafness was worsening, were placed on the loudest and softest points of the sound spectrum. Legato and detached articulation, again, were in sharp contrast and performed with amazing skill.
After the cello concerto, some comic relief was in order. Maestro José-Luis Novo provided it, by announcing the winner of the “Maestro Madness” competition. The contest raised $4,000 for the BPO and $16,000 for WSKG, the Tioga County Historical Society, Tri-Cities Opera and the Goodwill Theatre, and the winner earned the right to conduct the orchestra. It was (drum roll) Goodwill’s Naima Kradjian, who stepped to the podium to conduct Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” (you know the piece — “Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friends”).
During an “exhaustive” five-minute rehearsal, Novo instructed Kradjian on some fine points of conducting. “Wave your arms about until the music stops, turn around and bow, then leave the stage,” he advised. Some additional words of wisdom: “If you look at the trumpets, they’ll play louder;” “If you’re feeling stressed out, look at the violas; they’re very supportive people,” and lastly, “Look at the first violins so as to make them feel as good as they think they are.”
Next in the BPO concert season is a chamber concert by violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute at 3 p.m. Feb 19  in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall.

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