The Haifa Symphony of Israel made its debut performance in Las Vegas for an enthusiastic (but rather small) crowd Thursday at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall as part of the university’s Charles Vanda Master Series.
The Haifa orchestra is wrapping up a 38-concert tour of the United States; Thursday’s appearance was its 36th, making the music routine. Conductor Boguslaw Davidow invested his players with extraordinarily high energy and they responded with the highest level of musicianship and artistry.
The evening began with Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to his opera “Euryanthe.” While not a staple in the orchestral repertoire, the overture is still played occasionally. The opera, however, is not, probably because of its mindless plot and foolish libretto. But the performance did set the stage for what we would hear during the course of the evening: a bright but warm string sound reminiscent of the orchestras of Vienna and very expressive playing under Davidow’s clearly communicated guidance.
There followed a truly memorable performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 spotlighting 28-year-old Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich. Rabinovich made it look — and sound — easy. He doesn’t use a piano bench but instead sits upright on a high-backed chair displaying virtually no body English. His wrists and hands are exceptionally fluid, producing a variety of tonal colors from his instrument.
The concerto demands tonal variety throughout, ranging from the almost hopeless sadness of the first movement to the exuberance and rhythmic excitement of the “Finale.” Rabinovich was up to the concerto’s multiple challenges and the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative, a demonstration that led to two beautifully played encores.
The program’s second half was devoted to Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor. For a work born out of a stressful and conflicted period in the composer’s life, the symphony reflects neither stress nor conflict. For a man who lived in a world of private dreams, even nightmares, his known emotional instability was tempered by a wonderfully soothing relationship with an extremely wealthy patroness who had fallen under the spell of his music.
The patroness, Nadeja von Meck, provided financial support to Tchaikovsky for many years, but only under the condition that they were never to meet. In fact they never did, but this led to a number of long, soul-searching letters in which he declared it impossible to put his musical meaning into words.
The Fourth Symphony’s inspired moments, and there are many, contradict several of the ideas expressed in the composer’s letters. He describes the first movement as representing depression and loneliness, but later says, “All that was dark and joyless is forgotten.” The Third Movement is a joyful caprice in which none of the strings are sounded with a bow but, throughout, are plucked by fingers (pizzicato). The Fourth Movement consists of Russian folk tunes presented in commanding style with technical challenges for all families of instruments.
Again an encore was demanded and conductor Davidow pulled two surprises: the first was music by John Williams from the soundtrack of “Schindler’s List,” with violist Victor Khristoso as soloist; the second was — in honor of its American visit — John Philip Sousa’s perennial “Stars and Stripes Forever” during which the audience clapped, changing volume and even tempo following Davidow quite well.
So far the visiting orchestras and conductors have been great additions to this concert season.