This review appeared in the Dec. 16, 2011 Albuquerque Journal. Reprinted with kind permission.
By D. S. Crafts for the Journal
Symphonic music is back in Albuquerque. With a vengeance. From the ashes of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra rises the New Mexico Philharmonic which gave its inaugural concert on Saturday night. This is the orchestra that refuses to die and most assuredly should not die. Essentially it is the same body of excellent performers as the NMSO but now with a sense of determination and optimism as never before. Marian Tanau, the company’s Executive Director, himself a violinist with the Detroit Symphony, brings a fresh approach to administration that should ensure a confident future, allowing the musicians the freedom to concentrate on what they do best.
The near-capacity crowd at Popejoy Auditorium was more than welcoming, indeed so rambunctious in its enthusiasm that it broke into applause in the middle of a movement several times. Santa Fe couple Robert Tweten conducted and mezzo-soprano Kirsten Lear appeared as guest soloist in music by Copland and Tchaikovsky.
Copland’s Rodeo, in many ways a showpiece for orchestra, proved an ideal choice to open the program. The splashy sonic spectacle of the opening movement, Buckaroo Holiday, seemed to express the mood of the evening perfectly. The two middle movements, Corral Nocturne and Saturday NightWaltz rippled with poignant solos as the music settled into a more relaxed atmosphere. Hoe-Down, which has become a virtual cliché of the cowboy sprit, sparkled with energy and innately American rhythms.
I happily confess to being an avid fan of Kirsten Lear’s velvety mezzo. She invariably graces whatever called upon to sing, be it opera or as here, a set of concert songs. Copland’s setting of folksongs, Old American Songs, spans the gamut of genres from children’s songs, to hymn tunes, to minstrel ballads. Lear’s selection of seven included a touching rendition of Simple Gifts, the Shaker melody Copland later used in his Appalachian Spring. The rich expression she brought to the slow ballad Long Time Ago was balanced by the spirited humor of I Bought Me a Cat, and finally Ching-a-Ring-Chaw. I was disappointed only in that (from where I was sitting) she was often overpowered by the orchestra in its full complement. Such a glorious voice should never be covered.
In the second half Tweten led an extroverted performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 ablaze with color and startling rhythms, beginning with the lugubrious opening in the lower strings and clarinets. There was no artificial slowing down at the end of the movement, but rather, as Tchaikovsky intended, an abrupt and unexpected stop. In the second movement Andante cantabile, opening with a beautiful horn solo from J.D. Shaw, Tweten masterfully sculpted a dynamic arc that naturally allowed the primary theme to soar brilliantly in the strings.
The Finale: Andante maestoso was indeed majestic, the intersecting lines of counterpoint illuminated by exultant playing in all sections of the orchestra.
The decibel level of the applause that followed was truly deafening. The audience appreciation was palpable. For an opening night this couldn’t have been more successful. Onward and upward New Mexico Philharmonic!