Although it is one of that composer’s lesser known works, from the first few measures it could be identified as distinctively Beethoven. The Overture from The Creatures of Prometheus opened the program as conductor Alan Neilson led the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra in Jones Auditorium at Meredith College, under the sponsorship of Sageworks, Inc. The group made a fine first impression with this powerful piece.
As the program notes pointed out, Copland rearranged his ballet, Appalachian Spring, for full symphony orchestra in 1945. This crowd-pleasing work brought forth all the charm that one associates with its early American setting. The players were at their best with the opening of the “Shaker” variations, particularly where the massed strings augment the “band” members. The familiar Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty brought the evening to intermission.
When Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 came to these shores in the late nineteenth century, it was widely panned as nothing short of dreadful. One Boston critic called it “…the apotheosis of arrogance.” Now it has come to be a favorite in all the literature and one of the most accessible. The leading insistent drum beat of the opening bars were enough to remind those audience members of a certain age (well, at least one member) of the great George Szell and his Cleveland Orchestra of some fifty years ago. Not to carry that comparison too far, but these players did sound quite good.
The second "Andante sostenuto" movement showed off all the strings at their full-throated best. It was here that the ensemble most nearly made one forget about those early Clevelanders. Then the closing "Adagio" brought on the famous theme so eagerly awaited. Those lines recalled the song by the Norman Luboff Choir, “Your Kiss” (is the sunrise that brightens a brand-new day), a number that would charm all but the most doctrinaire purists.
The program was originally promoted as featuring the music of Ravel along with that of Brahms. So one might have arrived with an appetite whetted for that composer. But then again, what’s wrong with Beethoven, Copland, and Tchaikovsky as replacement?
Those who appreciate sound orchestral offerings are enjoined to watch for and support the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, this fine local treasure.