Reprinted with kind permission
By D.S. Crafts
For the Albuquerque Journal
In its first concert of the new year the New Mexico Philharmonic brought guest conductor Dante Anzolini to the Popejoy stage to conduct Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World” as well as excerpts from Italian opera.
There is nothing more magical than when a great piece of symphonic music comes to life in the hands of expert players under the direction of conductor who breathes animation into the music. This performance of the Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony may well be considered a benchmark for the newly-formed Philharmonic.
One of the great gems of the symphonic literature, the “New World” Symphony was written after Dvorak had become a fixture in the New York music scene around the turn of the last century. He had originally intended to compose an opera on Longfellow’s epic poem, Song of Hiawatha, but instead used his ideas in this symphony, the brilliant and unforgettably original themes executed and developed with exceptional mastery.
The opening movement conjures up, for me at least, the image of a wooden ship sailing across an expansive Atlantic through weather alternatively fair and foul but with above all a palpable sense of expectation and promise of new adventures to come. The spirit of rhythmic vitality was present throughout the movement with some excellent horn playing in particular.
Romantic composers provided many good melodies for the English horn, but the Largo movement here must be considered the grand prize. While it sounds like a folk song, indeed it later became just that when the words “Goin’ Home” were added. Oboist Kevin Vigneau took the part (oboists often also play the somewhat lower-ranged English horn or cor anglais), rendering the melody with a graceful poise, never for an instant slouching into sentimentality. Dvorak had intended the melody to symbolize an Indian forest burial. A series of chromatic brass chords, played with glowing sonority, served as contrasting bookends to this fundamentally diatonic melody.
The molto vivace movement, also inspired by a scene in the forest from Hiawatha– a dance sequence of the Pau-Puk-Keewis–sparkled with continuous flashes of orchestral sunlight.
The brass came blazing forth announcing the theme of the final movement which under Anzolini’s direction achieved a grand urgency full of drive and passion. The thrilling lurch into triple time came as effectively as a master driver imperceptibly shifting gears.
The program opened with four sugary bon-bons from Italian Opera, two overtures and two intermezzi. Both Verdi’s La Traviata Prelude and the Intermezzo from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci featured some highly exposed upper-register string playing which the first violin section carried out with distinction. The Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut followed (including the theme John Williams “borrowed” for Superman). This selection of the program culminated in Rossini’s Overture to L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers). Beginning with its slow tantalizing introduction, the overture offered some splendid showcase melodies for the woodwind section until working itself into an inevitable percussion-rich big bang.
The New Mexico Philharmonic can next be heard on February 25.