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Salisbury Symphony awes and astounds

By Dr. W. Gerald Cochran

Special to the Post

The Salisbury Symphony presented the second concert of its 48th season, “Minor Details, Major Decisions.” This enigmatic phrase is a quote from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” the title having nothing to do with either Stephen Sondheim or Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” from which the musical was inspired. The solution actually involves the key signatures of each of the three works played in this concert; each begins in the key of D minor (“Minor d…”) and ends in the key of D Major (“Major D…”).

Opening the program was “Overture to Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). One of his greatest and most frequently performed operas, it begins in a very dark and foreboding mood, and then changes pace to a lighter and airier fast section, leading directly into the opening act of the opera. The orchestra performed admirably, bringing out the dark, ominous tones and transitioning into the more whimsical and energetic conclusion with great verve.

In a similar vein, “Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120,” by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) begins in a dark mode and then shifts to a faster and lighter theme. This symphony is written in four movements, but is played without a break, and themes keep reappearing in the different movements. Due to its compositional style and shortcomings, the performance of this work could very easily fall apart and die; however, Maestro David Hagy and his band kept the piece moving and lively, for a very energetic, grand, and stimulating performance.

By far, the crowning glory of the evening was the performance of Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) monumental “Concerto No. 1 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15,” featuring Dmitri Shteinberg as the piano soloist. Mr. Shteinberg is an Artist Teacher of Piano at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. This is his second appearance with the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra.

This work originally was intended to be a symphony, but Brahms transformed it into a piano concerto, which was first performed in 1858. His first symphony would not arrive for almost 20 more years. In three movements, the first is very large, with much drama and raw emotion. The second is a very tender and gentle adagio, and the third is a rousing rondo and fugue, full of life and energy.

The orchestra was in top form, their broad, lush strokes of Brahms’ bombastic chords and the hushed, quiet pianissimos of the adagio were some of the most inspired playing I have heard from this group.

Mr. Shteinberg played the newly refurbished Steinway piano with a rich tone, his dazzling speed and virtuosity exemplifying his pianistic genius. Yet his tender and loving touch in the adagio movement was also thrilling, drawing the listener into every note. His reading of the third movement also awed and amazed.

Barely had the last note died away when the audience was on its feet, whistling and calling and shouting “Bravos.” And when the musicians in the orchestra put down their instruments and bows and start applauding with their hands, you know you have heard a spectacular performance.

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