Friday night’s concert at the recently renamed INB Performing Arts Center (it used to be the Spokane Opera House) made a grand opening of the Spokane Symphony’s 2006-07 season. Conductor Eckart Preu led a largely Russian program that included a brilliant piano concerto, one of the most popular of all symphonies, and a lilting suite of highly romantic ballet music.
Preu opened with the work of a composer he feels is unjustly neglected nowadays, Alexander Glazunov, with a suite of dances from Glazunov’s ballet “Raymonda.” The composer has taken a bad rap for being born too late for his style. His music is firmly in the grand 19th-century manner, and Preu and the orchestra made the most of it.
The work afforded Friday’s audience a chance to hear acting concertmaster Daisuke Yamamoto play one of those solos that is every concertmaster’s dream (or possibly nightmare), the Grand Adagio, a little violin concerto movement in itself. Yamamoto played fastidiously, demonstrating a sweet tone and excellent intonation.
Terrence Wilson played the solo part of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto with a nearly ideal combination of brilliance and delicacy. This sprawling concerto has a bit of everything – almost too much of everything. Khachaturian brought the exoticism of his native Armenia to the framework of the Rachmaninoff-style virtuoso concerto, then threw in a musical touch of the razzle-dazzle “novelty” pianists of the 1920s and ‘30s and a bit of Gershwinesque jazziness. Wilson made the most of every opportunity to roar or sing.
Khachaturian loved exotic instrumental effects with a special fondness for the bass clarinetist, and Shannon Scott played those solos beautifully. In an even more exotic choice, the composer employed the flexatone to double a melody line in the slow movement. The instrument sounds somewhat like a musical saw with the player gargling. Paul Raymond handled the instrument’s eerie character excellently.
The evening’s concluding work and centerpiece was Tchaikovsky’s famous Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”). The notoriously self-critical Tchaikovsky wrote that it was undoubtedly his best work. Like the Khachaturian Concerto, it is long. Unlike Khachaturian, though, Tchaikovsky learned a valuable lesson from his own favorite composer, Mozart. “No matter how long a work might be,” Mozart wrote, “never lose the thread.”
Tchaikovsky never allowed meaningless digressions or needless repetitions in his work. Preu and the orchestra gave a riveting performance from the mysterious unfolding of the bassoon solo against the cushion of low strings sounds of the opening, through “waltz in five beats” that substitutes in places of a slow movement, the scherzo that begins like elves marching and grows in violence to a march of giant soldiers, and ending with the quiet “collapse” of the finale.
It was that quiet ending that must have baffled the first-night audience in 1893.That ending still seems strange here more than a century later. But it was a shining performance to start the symphony season.