Thakar expertly guides CSO, Reagin through mix of outgoing, contemplative pieces

Guest review by Leah Harrison

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer
Guest conductor Markand Thakar leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra through its performance Saturday evening in the Amphitheater.

Saturday night, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra presented an exceptional lineup when they paired an introverted canonic jewel with two extroverted works from the 20th century. Audience members were treated to a well-designed program that gave the CSO an opportunity to display their stylistic expertise in both Manuel de Falla’s and Dmitri Kabalevsky’s boisterous works and Schumann’s gentle symphony.

An orchestral suite from Falla’s ballet, “Three-Cornered Hat,” opened the concert, beginning with a summery seguidilla called “The Neighbors’ Dance.” In the ballet narrative, this movement acts as soundtrack to a neighborhood get-together. Drama heightens when the local miller is asked to dance in a farruca: “The Miller’s Dance”; if Falla set out to portray miller-esque personality traits in this movement, we must assume that millers are daring, fiery people, at least as wild as a matador. The orchestra’s Andalusian flair reached its climax in the final movement, a chaotic jota fueled by revenge.

Guest conductor Markand Thakar directed the CSO without a score for both the Falla and Schumann on the second half of the concert. Thakar’s impassioned leadership and depth of knowledge clearly functioned well with the ensemble, who have worked with guest conductors for three seasons; their malleability and ability to respond to a different conductor every concert is remarkable.

CSO Concertmaster Brian Reagin took the stage to perform Kabalevsky’s violin concerto — a racy, demanding work with plenty of technical hurtles; Reagin cleared every one. What was missing, though, was the musicality one hopes for in a soloist. Reagin used the score during his performance, an unusual decision, and though not a forbidden practice, it was clear that he was anchored to the score, prohibiting meaningful engagement with Kabalevsky’s message or the accompanying orchestra — really too bad, since blending with the orchestra should be quite easy since he has an insider’s advantage. Thakar did an excellent job keeping the orchestra at Reagin’s blistering tempo, but the performance would have benefited from backing the tempo down a few notches on the metronome.

The second movement features beautiful, lush melodies, the violin paired with the flute, which would happen again in the third movement. Principal flutist Richard Sherman played with great sensitivity on both occasions.

Ultimately, the concerto served to expose the audience to a notable mid-century Russian work, but Reagin’s focus on the musical feat rather than musicality kept his performance from being particularly moving. More time spent with the music would almost certainly improve his command of the material.

Schumann’s second symphony comprised the second half. Here’s what’s great about Schumann: you get all the German girth of romanticism, but exchange the melodrama and weight that usually accompanies it with dreamy contemplation. The CSO proved their understanding of the subtle differences in shades explored by Schumann’s symphonic works.

The symphony opens as if mid-thought, surpassing a long buildup or introduction. This technique effectively diminishes any pretention associated with the genre, which is quite refreshing. The ideas behind Schumann’s symphony seemed to ring true in the wake of something poet Billy Collins said 24 hours earlier on the same stage: good poetry avoids the presumption that the reader or listener is automatically interested in the subject. The CSO adopted this attitude quite well, and while not entirely the same as the early Beethoven they performed Thursday night, the two pieces have certain similarities, and it’s clear that they have a knack for this brand of romanticism.

The third movement — adagio espressivo — highlighted the woodwind section and the way they flawlessly pass a melody from instrument to instrument. A stately, celebratory introduction opens the final movement, presenting a broad sound that only appears rarely in this work.

Several times, the gentle, timely release of the final chords took me by surprise, a seemingly minor point, but an elegant and understated way to pay final respect to the composer. So many final chords are held too long in an effort to make them grand, but the final breath in each work Saturday night was an appropriate summation of the thoughtful interpretation heard throughout the performance.

Leah Harrison is a writer and editor specializing in the arts. She is currently Spoleto Festival USA’s institutional writer and holds a master’s degree in musicology from The Florida State University and a second master’s in arts journalism from Syracuse University. Leah was The Chautauquan Daily’s opera reporter in 2012.

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