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MSO program showcases the best in classical repertoire

October 14, 2004|by Elizabeth Schulze

This weekend's MasterWorks program presents three works of music by Russian composers. For many listeners, the hallmarks of Russian orchestral music - a combination of passion, beautiful melody, vivid musical imagery and orchestral color - exemplify the best in the classical repertoire. Each work on the program displays these characteristics in abundance.

Anatol Liadov, a younger colleague of Tchaikovsky, was regarded in his lifetime as supremely talented but unfortunately indolent. Unable or unwilling to master large-scale musical forms, he is chiefly remembered today for his three brief but exquisite musical tone poems for orchestra: "Baba-Yaga," "The Enchanted Lake" and "Kikimora."

The Maryland Symphony will perform the last of these, which takes its title and inspiration from the legendary wraith-like witch, Kikimora, who was said to haunt the homes of Russian peasants and villagers, tormenting them with her whistling and cackling. The composition begins in the dark and melancholy mists of Kikimora's forest home, but it soon whirls into action as she arrives in the village to conduct her malicious hectoring. Liadov's brilliant musical imagery and orchestration gives some idea why he was so admired by his contemporaries.

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It's difficult to imagine a more satisfying listening experience than a live performance of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. Certainly one of the most popular musical works of all time, the concerto offers unforgettable melodies, virtuosic fireworks and enough passion to keep your house heated for the winter. What's astonishing is that it took hypnosis to get Rachmaninoff to write the concerto, after a crisis of faith in his abilities had stopped him from composing altogether.

Thank goodness for the power of positive suggestion, for we are the lucky recipients of a masterwork. Pianist Vassily Primakov, our guest artist, has been described as a dazzling talent, and there is hardly a better concerto than this to showcase his formidable musical gifts.

In discussing the music of Tchaikovsky, one inevitably looks to his life to find the meaning in his work. This is a very tempting thing to do, as the composer left to posterity his letters and diaries filled with his thoughts and feelings about the state of his soul and his art. In fact, he left us a "program" for his Fourth Symphony, in which "Life swings constantly between cruel reality and ephemeral dreams of happiness." Composed while recovering from a disastrous marriage and a resulting suicide attempt, it is very likely that his experience colored his choice of musical themes, particularly the fanfare-like motto of Fate, which opens the first movement and reappears in the finale. Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony stands powerfully and coherently apart from any program in its adherence to the traditional forms we have come to expect from an expanded classical-style symphony.




Elizabeth Schulze is the music director and conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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