Thursday, September 17, 2009 NBSO delivers stellar season opener, by Laurie Robertson-Lorant
For three seasons as its music director, Dr. David MacKenzie has nurtured and challenged the talented instrumentalists of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra to hone their considerable skills and expand their repertoire, often with spectacular results.
To open the orchestra's 2009-2010 "Year of the Piano," MacKenzie invited prizewinning Italian pianist Roberto Plano to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73. Commonly and erroneously called the "Emperor Concerto," this work tempts many performers to adopt self-consciously "heroic" attitudes — a temptation to which Roberto Plano wisely did not succumb. His performance of this familiar work was delightfully fresh, technically outstanding and sublimely beautiful, and his interpretation of it was a reminder that Beethoven composed his fifth piano concerto shortly after his Sixth Symphony, which Beethoven himself called his "Pastoral Symphony."
Apparently exploring the affinities between these two great works, Plano followed the orchestra's three dramatic opening chords with a cadenza that was a surprising combination of subtle syncopation, romantic energy, classical control, and grace. At times contemplative, at times exuberant, Plano's playing brought out the delicacy and sweetness of certain passages and the almost manic percussiveness of others without preciosity or bombast. Strong in the fast and forceful passages, he played the softer, slower passages with silken fluidity.
His first movement cadenza was bell-like in its resonance and sparkle. In the second movement adagio, the depth and poignancy of his encounter with the music he was playing seemed almost priestly. He seemed to be listening for the note beyond the note, as though earthly melodies held the key to the mysteries of the universe.
As his deft fingers traced the daringly attentuated transition to the concluding Rondo, Plano seemed almost reverent. He then plunged into this dynamic movement with great gusto, bringing concertgoers to their feet at its concluding chord with loud applause and cheers of "Bravo!" Responding with an encore that was a sheer delight, Plano announced Mozart's "A Musical Joke" and played it straight before jazzing it up with ragtime riffs that would have delighted the mischievous Mozart.
All that in just the first half of this outstanding concert.