For their second concert of the season, the Brevard Philharmonic took on two of the most popular works of the nineteenth century — the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 with soloist Marlina Lomazov and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. This ambitious program reflects Artistic Director and Conductor Donald Portnoy’s determination to present challenging concerts of mainstream repertoire, while expanding the audience base. A varied array of guest soloists — among them two Brazilian guitarists who will perform a North American premiere of Paulo Bellinati’s Duo-Guitar Concerto in April of next year — have proven to be a major draw. Carole and Arthur Schreiber were the concert sponsors.
Ms. Lomazov, an associate professor of piano at the University of South Carolina School of Music and Founder and Artistic Director of the Southeastern Piano Festival, has an established reputation as a formidable soloist with orchestras around the world in addition to appearances in all 50 states in the US. A native of the Ukraine, she was the youngest first-prize winner of the all-Kiev Piano Competition before immigrating to the US where she has continued to win both national and international piano contests. She is tall and willowy, her elegant demeanor on stage in a sense disguising her powerful technical chops.
Edvard Grieg’s only piano concerto, composed in 1868, is arguably one of the giant works for the instrument. Modeled on Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor with its play of declamatory, virtuosic passages against those of quiet lyricism and many parallels in structural ideas, the concerto nevertheless bears the unmistakable imprint of Grieg’s nationalistic orientation. The Norwegian dances halling in a lively duple-meter and the springer in triple meter emerge as compelling tunes, especially in the final movement. Though Ms. Lomazov’s performance was not note-perfect, her sense of style and musicality were flawless. The second movement was stunningly played in luminous tones and a satisfying stillness so appropriate to the mood. The third movement’s infectious romp was due in large part to her command of its rhythmic vitality and charming, folkish character.
One problem throughout the concert was the setting of the acoustical curtains which was ill-suited for the large orchestral forces onstage, resulting in an overly bright and at times harsh and unblended orchestral sound. Without the mitigating presence of the soloist in the Grieg, this became glaringly apparent in the Brahms.
Brahms’s last and highly complex symphony is music of the highest order, and as such is sufficiently challenging for professional orchestras with much more time to rehearse than Brevard’s intermittently assembled community orchestra. The first movement’s intricate counterpoint, its rhythmic subtleties, and massive scale led Brahms’s friend Elisabeth von Herzogenberg to complain of its “tangled overgrowth of ingeniously interwoven detail.” And so, during this performance there were “tangled” moments where the details overwhelmed the whole, as the tempo was just slow enough to render the reiterations of motivic exchange tedious, and where the arcing phrases lost their power. There was not enough variance in the inflection of the two notes forming the central motive.
The second slow movement which was beautifully voiced fared much better, especially with the expressive playing in the winds. Whatever spell was created in this movement was unfortunately dispelled prematurely by the conductor’s rush into the next movement. The third movement scherzo was given a credible reading. The famous passacaglia finale had some very fine moments — perhaps Brahms himself lent its players a hand by the predictable recurrence of its 8-bar theme, a secure handle in this artfully crafted and shape-shifting variation set.