Maestro William Henry Curry's long-time fascination and affection for the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is no secret to Triangle audiences. This concert was billed as "The Mystery of the Last Days and Last Masterpieces by Tchaikovsky." It included, of course, several selections by Tchaikovsky, a couple of arias from perhaps his favorite composer Mozart, and another from the highly regarded Mendelssohn.
Featured guest artists included the winner of the Durham Symphony Orchestra 2017 Young Artist Concerto Competition, Bethany Brinson, an accomplished pianist currently studying with Derison Duarte of Chapel Hill. Also appearing was the talented bass-baritone from Fayetteville, Luke Boehm. A trio of recent graduates included soprano Shafali Jalota, mezzo-soprano Kaswanna Kanyinda, and tenor Mark Storey.
The concert began with Tchaikovsky's rarely-heard (and apparently seldom recorded) "Jurisprudence March" (1885), sometimes called the "Jurists' March" and (according to the Tchaikovsky Research Center) still more rarely titled "Marche solonelle" (not to be confused with another work with that name). The "Jurists' March" marked the 50th anniversary of the St. Petersburg school Tchaikovsky had attended.*
Next up was a rousing performance of the "Polonaise" from Tchaikovsky's most successful opera, Eugen Onegin. Curry brought out all the vibrant beauty of this enticing piece.
The Orchestral Suite No. 4, Op. 61, more commonly known as Mozartiana, was written in 1887 as a tribute to Mozart. The third movement is an orchestration of Franz Liszt's Piano transcription of the exquisite anthem, "Ave Verum Corpus," composed by Mozart shortly before his death in 1791. The genius of Mozart, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky combine to produce the music of a dream-world performed with tender affection by the Durham Symphony Orchestra.
The next selection was "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" (The Catalogue Aria) from Mozart's Don Giovani. It was delivered with dramatic flair by Boehm in a fine voice which only lacks what maturity and experience will provide.
Brinson chose as her selection to demonstrate her keyboard skill, the technically challenging 1st movement of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor. The cadenza-like runs were smooth and breath taking. Her trills were even and vibrant. Her command of the musical interpretation was accomplished.
After intermission, the program continued with two of the magical numbers from The Nutcracker Suite; the lively "Trepak" (The Russian dance) and "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" featuring the sparkling, twinkling sound of the celeste as produced on an electronic keyboard.
The trio of up-and-coming singers – Jalota, Kanyinda and Storey – gave a warm lovely ensemble performance of "Soave sia il vento" (May the wind be gentle) from scene I of Cosi fan tutte. It was a fine pleasure to hear these lovely voices in sweet harmony.
The third and fourth movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, Op. 74, subtitled Pathetique, are among the most dramatic of all his works. The third movement is a march characterized by a driving force of awesome proportions with just a hint of tragedy underlying it. It ends with almost unbearable intensity on a driving triplet statement. The fourth movement is a dirge, building to an overwhelming level of sadness before slowly fading away to – nothing. There are places in this symphony where the dynamic markings read ffff (fortissississimo) – meaning very, very, very loud; and pppp (pianissississimo). There is one spot where a bassoon solo is marked with six ps.
After a detailed talk on the issues around Tchaikovsky's death, nine days after the premier of the 6th Symphony, Curry led the orchestra in an impassioned rendition of the last two movements, making the most of the dynamic extremes and the emotional intensity of the symphony.
The story goes that a friend of Tchaikovsky's cousin, Andrey, suggested that he entreat his famous composer cousin to write a march for their military regiment. Tchaikovsky responded with this stately and lively march written as a piano piece. He suggested that the music master of the regiment write out the individual parts for the instruments he had at his disposal.
Enter William Henry Curry, conductor, musician, composer, doing research on Tchaikovsky. On discovering the march, he was intrigued, added some segments to make it more complete, and wrote out parts for a full symphony orchestra. And so we heard it tonight providing us pleasure and sending us home with energy in our spirit, a spring in our step, and gratitude in our heart for Curry and the Durham Symphony Orchestra.