After a summer of anticipation, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) kicked off its 86th season Saturday, October 7, at the Adler Theater. The mammoth performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, the intimate emotion of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, and even the rabblerousing overture to Verdi’s opera Nabucco delighted the senses.
With his one-year honeymoon behind him, conductor Donald Schleicher didn’t disappoint, especially with Shostakovich’s epic Fifth Symphony.
Not readily recognizable, the overture to Nabucco opened the concert and captured the imagination of the Adler crowd. Most famous for the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves,” the overture has been used as the battle cry for Italian independence and was even spontaneously performed at Verdi’s funeral. In its totality, the overture is fitting for a liberation movement or a funeral.
Beginning waywardly and without much direction, the piece climaxes with the stirring and uplifting chorus. The heroic playing of the brass and the violins carried the performance, especially the subtle pizzicato of the violins, which propped up the errant early portions of the symphony.
Next, the QCSO performed what is no doubt one of the most famous violin concertos in the classical repertoire. Felix Mendelssohn, a boy genius of Mozart-like quality, composed his violin concerto in E minor for Ferdinand David. Both were precocious talents who had known each other since boyhood.
What is most striking about Mendelssohn’s concerto is the coherence that runs through all three movements. To achieve this uncanny sense of integration, Mendelssohn resorted to some rather daring formal innovations, including a linkage of the first two movements and the insertion of the first-movement cadenza not at the end of the movement but as part of the development.
Beginning with the haunting opening bars of the concerto and continuing until vivacious E-major finale, soloist David Perry’s playing meshed well with the orchestra’s mastery of the piece. In fact, it meshed too well. Technically sound, the performance failed to probe the emotional brilliance of the piece.
Even though there is little give and take between the orchestra and the soloist, Perry seemingly refused to make the piece his own. Unquestionably qualified to be a soloist, I feel his history as an in-demand concertmaster hindered his ability to escape the confines of the orchestra’s playing. As a result, Saturday’s performance, while acceptable, offered the seasoned listener nothing new. I would have preferred an edgier performance from Perry, one that seized on the work’s inherent passion and utilized the smooth elegance of the andante.
Even in the highly virtuosic Allegro molto vivace, with its torrent of eighths and sixteenths, Perry refused to take control of the piece and truly set himself apart from the orchestra.
In spite of the usual performance of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, Schleicher and the QCSO made up for it with a grand performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.
The Fifth Symphony developed as a result of the scornful criticism of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Unoriginal in construction and style, the symphony begins with a hopelessly tragic first movement and concludes valiantly. The arch-like plan of the symphony’s first movement is one of the most stirring in all of music, and the Quad City Symphony brought out the best of the movement. Schleicher and the QCSO wrought every note of every bar with the requisite amount of overflowing bleakness. Even the somewhat humorous Allegretto was dotted with a sense of despair that at most elicited only a grim smile.
For the course of the second half of the concert, Schleicher carried the QCSO through a stirring interpretation of the Fifth Symphony; I doubt that Schleicher could have drawn more from the orchestra. The symphony, with its collective musical might, profoundly tackled one of the most famous and most difficult orchestral pieces of the 20th Century.
If Saturday’s concert is a premonition of what is to be expected in future from the QCSO, then this year’s concert season will be even more pleasing than last year’s. Schleicher seems to have made the QCSO his own and will continue to offer the area topnotch concerts. The bookends of the concert, the Nabucco overture and Shostakovich’s symphony, more than compensated for a somewhat uninspired interpretation of Mendelssohn’s piece.