Review of April 13th Russian Masterworks Concert

by D. S. Crafts
for the Journal

There is probably no better piece with which to open a symphony concert than the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila by Glinka. It is full of a vivacious, irresistible energy that immediately pulls the audience into the proper spirit. That is exactly what happened Saturday night when it began the New Mexico Philharmonic concert in Popejoy Auditorium–a program of Russian classics that brought pianist Daniel Goiti and guest conductor Oriol Sans to town.

Romanian pianist Daniel Goiti is renowned throughout his native country and Eastern Europe especially, but has performed to acclaim with many of the great orchestras. No wonder, as he played with command and sensitivity beginning with the bold sequence of chords which opens the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Oddly, the grandly bombastic theme which everyone recalls does not return and the movement is built almost entirely from the secondary theme.

Fulsome sonorities and thunderous octaves combined with light filigree passagework, traversing the full range of modern pianistic technique, as Goiti quickly ingratiated himself to the Popejoy audience. With the cadenza it was clear he had a story to tell with the rhetoric of a master orator. The Andantino semplice became a generous partnership with a play of winds and strings, the brass ultimately joining the affair. The nimble folk-like theme of the Allegro con fuoco gave way to the lyrical grandeur summoned compellingly in the final moments.

The performance was fresh, never routine. A classic work well and truly played and for it Goiti was treated to the high volume of congratulatory applause for which Albuquerque audiences have become reputed, and which has made New Mexico an anticipated stop on a concert tour.  After the third curtain call, Goiti repaid the ovation with an encore, Rachmaninoff’s Romance.

If there were stories implicit in the Tchaikovsky, they came centerstage in Scheherazade. Believe it or not, Rimsky-Korsakov is primarily known in Russia as an opera composer. Inspired by Wagner, he wrote some fifteen operas based on Russian fairy tales and legends, full of exotic locales and magical events. Scheherazade, his great symphonic poem in four movements brings all those elements in the form of the fantastic stories of 1,001 nights keeping the Sultan amused.

The opening movement “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” was awash in opulently lush harmonies, the hypnotic sounds of Sirens luring Ulysses—or here Sinbad—to death by ecstasy. Sans gave the work a majestic sweep when necessary, still allowing room for individual expression.

The solo violin part is extensive enough that it is credited specifically on recordings. Concert master Krzysztof Zimowski gave a noble yet pathos-laden rendering of the theme which signifies the story-teller herself, Scheherazade. The work is replete with numerous other solos from bassoon (Stephanie Przybylska), flute (Valerie Potter), clarinet (Lori Lovato), oboe (Melissa Sassaman), solo cello (Joan Zucker) and French horn (Nate Ukens).

Some years ago I heard a performance of this piece by the St. Petersburg Orchestra that paled in comparison, lacking the vitality and enthusiasm of our own NM Philharmonic. Bravo!

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