As led by guest conductor Christoph König, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra wasted no time Thursday night serving up the “meat and potatoes” of its programmatic meal, opening with Johannes Brahms’s exquisite yet understated Symphony No. 3 .
The composition’s initial movement, “Allegro con brio,” started off immediately with a rich Romanticism promising the ensuing lush, robust harmonic textures for which Brahms’ music is known. With a stately calm, König emphasized fluid motion in the phrasing and sustain through the composer’s elongated melodies.
The music continually returned to the opening theme, equal parts majestic and melancholic. The brooding atmosphere that pervaded the first movement was ideally articulated, but most important, König was able to successfully navigate through minute distinctions in dynamic levels . Particularly in the string sections, the controlled turbulence that characterized the majority of the movement was at last unleashed into a sprawling storm toward the close, providing compelling structure and shape.
In the second movement, the woodwinds and French horns laid much of the harmonic bedrock, allowing the violins and cellos to carry the melodies. The most moving moments of the symphony arrived during the “Poco allegretto,” prompted by the dolorous cello melody that ushered in the movement with tender elasticity. The theme was then passed onto the first violins, who delivered it with solemnity, followed by the woodwinds, who played it with wistful nostalgia.
The French horn had the most resonance with the melody, floating it with a kind of noble detachment that highlighted the forlorn, aspirant quality in the composer’s phrasing.
With little warning, the energy was amped up in the final movement in the form of labyrinthian oboe and bassoon passages, more rigorous phrases in the cellos and sharper accents in the violins. It was as if what had been a sonic landscape of harmonies melded in a haze, then abruptly shifted into focus before ultimately drifting back into the fog.
Following an intermission, the RPO — joined by Eastman School of Music’s Piano Department Chair and soloist Douglas Humpherys — launched into Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 . This early piece is notable for its urgency, no doubt a product of youthful energy on the part of the composer.
Whereas later Rachmaninoff concertos seem to possess a certain superfluous egotism, the restlessly roaming melodies of this piece come across as nothing short of essential. While not an overtly showy performer, Humpherys’ strong technical command of the music and agile fingerwork revealed a dynamic musician in his first collaboration with the RPO — a few flubbed notes in the first-movement cadenza notwithstanding.
Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Galánta proved to be an interesting closing composition for the evening, an intriguing mixture of rumination and exposition imbued with straightforward folk melodies and gypsy-esque allure.
Daniel J. Kushner, Democrat & Chronicle, 4:44 p.m. EST November 7, 2014. Kushner is a Rochester-based freelance writer and opera librettist.
Christoph König conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, Mussorgsky Scherzo in B-flat Major (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Premiere, and Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring the fabulously gifted 2010 Chopin Competition winner Yulianna Avdeeva. More info .