A Russian feast – Barbara Nissman’s visit to the Austin Symphony

 ~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA weekday announcer

Sometimes my ears crave something special. On Saturday the Austin Symphony Orchestra served up a feast for the ears, that featured music by Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.

The program began with a marvelous appetizer, namely, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s gorgeous “Vocalise,” just the piece to awaken the palate before the more dramatic fare on the menu.

The guest soloist with the ASO for this performance was Barbara Nissman, billed as “…one of the last pianists in the grand romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Rubinstein.” The piece was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor…a real “knuckle-buster.” When I think of this piece, I am reminded of the old story about how Michelangelo created his statue of David: “I just cut out all the parts that didn’t look like David.” I had the sense that Rachmaninoff started with black manuscript and simply erased all the parts that didn’t sound like a piano concerto (at least with regard to the piano part). Ms. Nissman gave a commanding performance.

The pièce de resistance for me was the performance of the Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47, by Dmitri Shostakovich. I have to say that this piece has been a favorite of mine for decades. A composer of the Soviet era, Shostakovich was under fierce scrutiny when he wrote this piece (or any other, for that manner), and that harsh reality is reflected throughout the work. Under the direction of Maestro Peter Bay, the ASO deftly caught the sudden shifting moods, with great attention to dynamics. I thought I saw the audience leaning forward and back, sympathetically, as the orchestra told Shostakovich’s compelling story.

As is often the case with such soirées, everyone in attendance (on stage and off) left the table a little bit slower, smiling and reflecting on the feast and the fine presentation. Kudos to Maestro Bay and the ASO!

Dianne Donovan is KMFA’s midday announcer and host/producer of Classical Austin. If you missed the recent Classical Austin episode (Feb. 24th) featuring Maestro Peter Bay’s insights on this event, you can listen to it again on our website by clicking here.

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