By MIKE DUNHAM
The appearance of Paul Rosenthal with the Anchorage Symphony on Saturday night probably contributed to the nearly full house at Atwood Concert Hall. The violinist, a major figure in the Alaska music scene since the 1960s, set the minds of decades-long fans ruminating on the inevitable passage of time when he recently stepped down as the director of the Sitka Music Festival.
Adding to the nostalgia of the evening was the featured work, Brahms’ valedictory Double Concerto, in which Rosenthal was joined by cellist Zuill Bailey, the festival’s new director. Bailey had more of a commanding presence in the piece, precise, impassioned and issuing a grand tone. Rosenthal’s volume was notably subdued in the opening movement.
Things were more balanced in the quieter slow movement. The chipper finale danced off into the future happily enough, with a number of the audience giving the pair a standing ovation.
More problematic was the orchestra, particularly the violins, who plowed through the climactic tuttis in the first movement carelessly. One found little fire here, the peaks of the score blunted and leveled.
The program opened with the world premiere of a new work by Ives Fellowship recipient George Tsontakis, probably best known for a solo piano work, “Ghost Variations.” His new piece, “Comet,” opens with a descending four note motif in the trumpets, the type of signal that might provide fodder for recognizable development.
But the thrust of the work turned out to be atmospheric, not melodic. After some warm sounds from a big brass section and battery of percussion – suggesting, we’re told, the night sky – and some march-like moments the piece evaporated away like a snow drift in the April sun without leaving behind much of an impression.
The final work was Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Conductor Randall Craig Fleischer opted for a brisk and taught approach to the familiar piece. To me it sounded sprightly and vigorous. Others may have found it lacking in nuance. But I liked how Fleischer shaped the theme of the second movement, in which 12 of the first 19 notes are identical, putting a little burst on the fourth and ninth notes. And the strings redeemed themselves with the neatly articulated fughetta in that movement.
The next season was announced in the program booklet. It will include a concerto by Fleischer drawn from Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and featuring the Harlem String Quartet (Sept. 22); Elmar Oliveira in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (Nov. 10); Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony and a piano concerto by Jennifer Higdon (Jan. 19); Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe” Suite No. 2 (Feb. 23); and “The Damnation of Faust” by Berlioz (April 20).
Non-classical offerings next season will feature a symphonic tribute to the music of ABBA (Oct. 26-27), Broadway singers in excerpts from “Wicked,” “Titanic” and more (Feb. 9) and the silent movie concert with the orchestra accompanying Douglas Fairbanks in “The Mark of Zorro” (Dec. 1).
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.