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Morbidity and mortality in Troy: composer Gordon Beeferman.

American Splendor

By B.A. Nilsson

Albany Symphony Orchestra
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, March 14

Casual Night at the Symphony may have dressed down in the sartorial sense, but the music proved to be anything but casual: a quartet of richly textured works by American composers, two of whom were there to introduce their pieces.

Itís the refreshing kind of programming needed to give life to current music. None of the pieces is of a type likely to reveal all of its mysteries in a single hearing: The music needs further exposure through radio and recordings. Classical-music radio is a wasteland of greatest hits, and the recording companies, with a few exceptions, wonít touch this stuff. Michael Torkeís An American Abroad, which received its U.S. premiere on the program, was recorded immediately after its premiere last year with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and copies of the Naxos CD were sold in the lobby during intermission.

Anyone who bought and listened to the recording will find it an excellent enhancement to the experience of witnessing the work. Torkeís music is fun and accessible without being superficial, and this 20-minute piece conjures a range of emotions without settling for the obvious. Any musical depiction of an American abroad goes up against the citadel of Gershwinís An American in Paris, but Torke took a path away from the bouncy musical stylings of the earlier work and concentrated instead on summoning those emotions through orchestral texture and bursts of lyricism.

If you want to hear a recording of Paul Crestonís Violin Concerto No. 2, the work that followed, youíre out of luck. The prolific Creston is not-too-well recorded, and itís a shameóthis is a piece that, with a little familiarity, might ease toward the core of the repertory. Certainly itís a thrilling showpiece for the violinist, as Gregory Fulkerson demonstrated. The improvisatory feel of the opening movement gives way to wonderful melody in the andante, kept nervous by the use of three-against-two figurations. The concluding presto offered a playful chase to a virtuosic end.

Commissioned for the Albany Symphony and world-premiered was Gordon Beefermanís brief Morbidity and Mortality Report, a four-movement work depicting aggression, disaster and loss. He has a charming wit (reflected in the title and scope of the work), and the piece itself demonstrates an impressive unity by weaving textural elements from one movement to the next. But itís not a terribly pleasant piece, almost arrogant in its plangent nature. Is this bad? I donít think so. Coming as it did as an unsettling interlude between music by Creston and Barber, it was an itchy change of pace, and I wish I could hear it again.

Samuel Barberís Symphony No. 1 was as mainstream repertory as this program went, and it provided a tuneful, sweeping finish. Itís a one-movement, multi-sectioned work with a unifying theme (characterized by a rising octave) that transforms throughout the symphonyís tempo shifts; like the other works on this program, it was as much about orchestral texture as anything else, and Miller was in fine control of a very skillful orchestra. At times the brass threatened to overwhelm the string section, but thatís my only complaint in an otherwise rare and enjoyable evening.


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