Performance Review: Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody

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Performance Review: Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody

The Jacksonville Symphony presented “Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody” this weekend, a luxurious program featuring three of the most important composers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

A Game of Cards (Jeu de cartes) by Igor Stravinsky

The concert opened with Igor Stravinsky’s A Game of Cards. Of the three works offered on the evening’s program, this was likely the least well-known to most audience members and functioned well as an opener. Courtney Lewis led the Symphony through Stravinsky’s busy and colorful score with great energy. From the outset, it was clear that the strings were in top form, playing with a warmth and lyricism that would continue all throughout the concert. Rhythms were tight, and cohesion between the players was characteristically rock solid.

Interested in learning more? Explore a full set of Program Notes.

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Second on the program was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” featuring guest pianist Natasha Paremski. Paremski played with incredible control and refinement throughout, dispatching Rachmaninoff’s fearsome keyboard hurdles with effortless ease. Her absolute technical control freed her up to bring out subtleties of line and voicing in a way that breathed fresh, new insight into these well-explored phrases. I was particularly impressed by her control of tone and color in the quieter moments where she seemed to deploy infinite levels of dynamic shading. The Jacksonville Symphony proved equal partners in this exceptional rendering, the strings being a particular standout in the famous 18th variation, playing with a soaring lyricism that even the most veteran of concertgoers would find irresistible.

Symphony No. 6, Op. 74, “Pathétique” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 

Rounding out the evening was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s great and final Symphony No. 6 in B minor. From the dark and ominous opening lines on the bassoon to the tragic final bars of the fourth movement about 45 minutes later, Courtney Lewis and the Symphony kept the audience spellbound. The strings continued in peak form, singing out Tchaikovsky’s rapturous melodies with unrestrained passion. There are few symphonies that utilize the brass as effectively as this one, and the Symphony’s brass section met the challenge, particularly in the crushing development section of the first movement and the brilliant and jaunty third movement. For me, however, the most memorable part of this performance was the tragic final movement. Unusually for a symphony of this scope, the last movement ends very quietly. Courtney and the Symphony effectively conveyed a feeling I can only describe as smiling through tears as Tchaikovsky is forced to confront the end of his life. At the conclusion, the audience was too enraptured to applaud for several moments after which they appropriately sprang to their feet in appreciation for what was truly an exceptional evening of music making.

“Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody” was an absolute musical feast and one of the most well played and well-programmed Jacksonville Symphony concerts I have yet attended. This program was surely a high water mark in what has been a very memorable season so far and will not be soon forgotten by any who were in attendance.

Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as the classical music reviewer. 

Watch, Listen and Read

Interested in joining the Jacksonville Symphony for another innovative and engaging season? Please visit our 2022/23 Season page to learn more about the upcoming season programming. Additional content for this performance includes a full set of Program Notes. Looking for more content? Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to watch concert archives, interviews, behind the scenes content and more.

The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Florida Blue for sponsoring the Classical Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody.

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