The Brevard Philharmonic had a remarkable turnout at the Brevard College Porter Center for the first concert of their 2013-14 season, and conductor Donald Portnoy did not disappoint the masses, either. Though only two pieces were featured at this concert, they were scintillating both musically and technically. Featuring guest pianist Misha Dichter, Brevard Philharmonic’s “Dichter and Rachmaninoff” left the audience in uproarious applause.

The audience was greeted by the suspenseful first phrases of the first movement of Howard Hanson’s signature piece, Symphony No. 2, (“Romantic”). Sound swept and swelled across the ensemble, settling into the basses. Horn calls then pierced the suspense with extreme precision and exceptional blend. Hanson’s drive for the romantic feel was extremely evident as the piece continued, with sonorous solos weaving among the oboes, horns, and an English horn. A recurring theme throughout the piece was constantly consistent as it was passed through nearly all the sections of the ensemble. Such continuity and artfulness was nearly mesmerizing. In fact, it was so tactfully executed that Portnoy’s leadership was a myriad of the smooth and powerful gestures of his hands, creating a flowing dance that followed the romantic contour of the music. Quasi-birdcall effects echoed in the woodwinds during the second movement with a crispness that seemed to transport one to a forest. As the second movement came to a close, an exposed double bass and timpani soli sang in the halls in perfect intonation. In the third movement of Symphony No. 2, Hanson’s drive for youth and passion in his music became very clear with percussive-like accents, giving the mood of the movement that of modern music. To add to this effect, layers of brass fanfare and lyrical woodwind passages created a texture rich in variety and a spry air. The piece ended with an eruption of sound that rang in the halls.

Guest pianist, Misha Dichter, entered the stage for the second half of the concert, featuring the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This piece was astounding and mind-melting as Dichter’s hands seemed to fly over the keys, executing technical passages with what came across as exceptional ease. The Brevard Philharmonic stayed perfectly aligned with him, too. It was as if each player in the ensemble were just an extension of Dichter’s own body. Piano passages interlaced with melodic woodwind themes and danced around the ensemble, creating a rich fabric of musical timbres, textures, and expressions. The play between soloist and ensemble was both eerie and entrancing. The aggressive opening of this piece soon gave way to a peaceful piano solo accompanied by tense tremolos in the strings. Suddenly, the calm was interrupted by the storm of an exciting waltz-like section. In variations seven, ten, and twenty-four, the familiar chant from the Mass for the Dead, Dies irae, emerged from the texture and rang in the hall with a very dark and foreboding air. The piece continued onward with an ebb and flow of tumult and rest until it reached the finale. Syncopated accents and the final return of the Dies irae theme twisted and embellished by Dichter led to an intensely climactic finish, with the surprise of the entire ensemble dropping out to allow the solo pianist to close the final thoughts of the piece by himself; a stark, yet extremely effective way to end such an astounding piece.

A standing ovation and the uproarious applause of the hall prompted Dichter to perform as an encore Debussy’s “Claire de lune.” The Brevard Philharmonic, under Donald Portnoy’s direction and with guest soloist Misha Dichter delivered an astounding performance of two remarkably expressive pieces. It was a marvelous start to the season for the Brevard Philharmonic.