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Going for the Goldmark

By B.A. Nilsson

Albany Symphony Orchestra

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Nov. 10

 

Picky posterity hasnít been kind to Karl Goldmark. His Rustic Wedding Symphony, a concert staple a few decades ago, has faded from the repertory; his violin concerto, written the same year Brahms completed his, once enjoyed a place alongside Brahmsí immensely popular work, but it, too, has nearly vanished.

Violinist Dylana Jenson believes that the Goldmark concerto deserves rediscovery, and proved it with a dazzling performance last Friday with the Albany Symphony Orchestra under the baton of her husband, David Lockington. The program also included a warhorse and a world premiere, and was a thrilling testament to the skill of all concerned.

Jenson burst onto the concert scene as a fiendishly talented kid, winning prizes and wowing critics. Her debut recording, of the formidable violin concerto by Sibelius, was a knockout.

So I hoped, when I learned that this concert had been titled ďSizzling SibeliusĒ (not an adjective Iíd ever apply to the dour Finn), that Iíd get to hear her play the work in person. What she did with the Goldmark concerto more than made up for any disappointment I might have felt.

Itís a long three-movement work, full of the orchestral bombast youíd expect from 1877. But itís a well-crafted piece that boasts a challenging solo part and a broad range of orchestral effect. You can hear its influence in the violin concerto by Elgar, written 30 years later (parts of the first-movement finale are lifted almost intact).

What it lacks is the cumulative effect of the Brahms concertoóand, for that matter, the Sibelius symphony that closed the concert. The Goldmark is a work of moments: the big, jaunty moment that opens the piece, the ongoing byplay between soloist and orchestra, the from-out-of-nowhere fugues in the outer movements, the gorgeous Andante between.

Still, those moments add up to an enjoyable 40 minutes, especially with playing of the caliber of Jensonís. She has a steely, burnished tone that immediately wins your confidence. Unlike Perlman, whose sound has a supplicating quality, or Chang, whose vibrato swells mid-note (to name two who have recorded the Goldmark), Jenson brings a consistent, artless sound to what she plays. Thus, she makes the hard parts, like the crazed arpeggios in the third movement, sound transparent, allowing the music more of an emotional effect.

It canít hurt to have a close collaborator like your husband on the podium, and she and Lockington worked excellently together, with phrasing and dynamic balance always skillfully proportioned.

Lockington opened the concert with a world premiere, for which, as you know, he has a sympathetic ensemble. The Gale of Life, a short work by British composer Philip Sawyers, was inspired by a section from Housmanís A Shropshire Lad.

A two-note call introduced a six-note pattern that developed into an important thematic element, reinforced early on by maestoso cellos in a Beethovenish mode. But it was Berlioz whom Sawyers credited as a big influence, and there certainly was a feel of the Symphonie Fantastique that peeked through towards the end, in the midst of a Straussian swirl of orchestral effect.

But Sawyers is certainly more than the sum of such influences. The piece moves through three distinct sections, each marked by a well-crafted panoply of colors. Itís as much about texture as it is about melodic elements, certainly very accessible to anyone with even 20th-century ears, and, in the middle section, as the quiet strings invited a flute to join in, it turned sublime.

Itís been more than a century since Sibeliusí Symphony No. 2 premiered, winning itself a permanent place in the orchestral repertory. Itís lush but stridently unsentimental; its themes seem fragmented; it flows from movement to movement without much in the way of contrast. At least in the classical sense.

But its cumulative effect is stunning. Those seeming fragments ultimately combine, like a paregoric-induced dream, into an imposing whole that stays with you long after the piece concludes. Vital to that phenomenon is the relentless pulse of the piece, and I knew we were in good hands when Lockington set off at a brisk, Barbirolli-ish pace, honoring the tenuto passages without sacrificing any forward motion.

The shifting nature of this piece is exemplified by the start of the second movement, where tympani and low strings set off at what hardly seems to be an Andante pace; only partway through does the music take on characteristics of a slow movement. The goofy bass figure that opens the fourth movement is another of those elements that seems out of place in isolation, then melds excitingly with the whole.

Lockington brought fresh ideas to the piece, but needed an orchestra as well-honed as the Albany Symphony to realize them. With the contributions from Jenson and Sawyers, this was an all-virtuoso evening.

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