Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra
Jose Luis Novo, Music Director
Classics Four – Lyrical Last Words
Gabriela Lena Frank – Requiem for a Magical America
Howard Hanson – Piano Concerto in G-major, Op. 36
Featuring pianist William Wolfram
Sergei Prokofiev – Symphony #7 in C# minor, Op.1318PM March 29th, Binghamton University
I’ve never heard of Gabriela Lena Frank, or her Requiem for a Magical America, so I asked Jose Luis Novo what he was hoping his audience heard from this music. He talked a good deal about the sheer variety of the music, and it’s true – the biggest unifying factor is the disunity of the individual movements. While there are some movements that are played attacca (without pause), most movements do not share musical ideas with what comes before and after them. This makes the work function like a series of vignettes – sort of like Modest Mussorgsky’s famous Pictures at an Exhibition, where the audience is treated as though it is at an art gallery, walking from painting to painting. One moment, the percussion will be going crazy, the next you’ll hear the orchestra walking along in a herky-jerky fashion, imitating skeletons, the next the violins will be imitating ghosts! The whole thing is capped off by a very unusual surprise at the end.
Howard Hanson was an American composer who was most active during the first half of the 20th century, so if you think that you’re hearing shades of Bernstein and Copland, you probably aren’t wrong. Hanson, who was one of the earliest directors of the Eastman School of Music (holler!), published his Piano Concerto op.36 in 1948. One might chose to hear the fingerprints of two world wars on this music – in the respectful, almost reverential chorale that opens the work, in the deterministic bent of the Allegro deciso (decisively allegro!) in the first movement, and in the expansive qualities of the finale. Most significant is the opening chorale – it appears again in a disguised form in the third movement, and again in the finale.
The Seventh Symphony Op.131 might bear Sergei Prokofiev’s name, but make no mistake – this symphony owes as much to Prokofiev’s predecessors – specifically Gustav Mahler and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – as it does to the man himself. This work has the scope and ambition of Mahler’s greatest works – right from the outset, it is clear that we are on a grand journey, and we’re not sure where we’re going. Clearly, though, this is not entirely Mahler – the melodies are wholly Russian, and while Prokofiev’s chords are more conventional, their juxtaposition is not (the final movement must change keys at least eight or nine times!). This is one of the keys to understanding Prokofiev – see if you can keep track of all of the different tonal shifts! The second movement could have been lifted right out of one of Mahler’s symphonies – its one of those crazy waltzes that seems to be constantly on the verge of careening out of control! The third movement begins with a great Russian chorale – just as Tchaikovsky might have. The fourth movement is all Prokofiev though – winking, biting sarcasm, before finding a positively mystical conclusion.