The Egmont Overture is one of Beethoven’s truly timeless masterpieces. The inevitability of Beethoven’s heroic nature is on full display. The long introduction juxtaposes a powerful string section in homophonic hammerschlagen with a transparent, signing wind section. The swells calm and the storm subsides, slowly moving towards a cadence. At the last moment, lightning strikes and the orchestra plunges back into the storm, carried by a surging tide of strings and breaking waves of brass.
Egmont is the platonic ideal of Beethoven. Stormy, dramatic, sweet at times and lyrical. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, helmed by music director Randall Craig-Fleischer, was in prime form and ran the course of the overture with exacting rhythmic precision and elegance.
The trailblazer featured in this concert was Florence B. Price. Price was the first female African-American composer to achieve international fame, and her Symphony No. 1 was the first symphony to be performed by a major orchestra. The symphony enjoyed success in her own time but has seen a revival in the last few years and the ASO joins the growing ranks of orchestras celebrating this groundbreaking work.
The piece, in four movements, is an interesting mix of late romantic western harmonies, African dance rhythms and classic(al) musical Americana. The first movement is jaunty and rustic, and heavily features the winds. A marching brass ritornello dominates the second movement, and each iteration is interspersed with gently flowing string hymnals. The third movement juba, an African dance, has a big band swing and the finale evoked Gordon Jacob levels of folksy verve. The slow second movement was remarkable. The brass choral was precisely tuned, and at the behest of Fleischer
Violinist Zachary DePue first performed with the ASO in 2011 as part Time for Three, a classical/bluegrass crossover ensemble of which he was a founding member. He returned this week to tackle Antonin Dvorak’s beloved violin concerto. Dvorak does away with the traditional length orchestra introduction and instead opts to dive right into the action, and from the first rolled chords and soaring melody, DePue was in absolute command of the stage.
Dvorak’s is a different kind of violin concert. It has all the aspects of a showstopper one would expect - virtuosic finger pyrotechnics, tuneful melodies, a sweeping middle movement - but with the added flare of Dvorak’s folk-infused harmonic language. DePue speaks this language fluently. He maneuvered the polished, virtuoso aspects of the concerto with ease, but also knew when and where to allow his sound to teeter on the edge and evoke the character of rustic fiddling that Dvorak demands. His intensity and showmanship were on full display and the orchestra rose to meet him. The dialogue between orchestra and soloist provided some of the more stunning moments, especially with DePue and principal flutist Roxann Berry, whose rich tone blended impeccably with the solo violin.
All in all, last Saturday’s program was impeccably balanced and brilliantly executed. The orchestra was sharp, and the music making was fresh and exciting.