YSO breathes life into Brahms, Berlioz

If Maestro Shinik Hahm’s interpretations occasionally lean towards plain vanilla, the Yale Symphony Orchestra responds to his baton with a rich, creamy sound. Tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, YSO will be performing three pieces that easily earn their place on the list of 19th-century favorites: the Brahms second piano concerto and both the Symphony Fantastique and Roman Carnival Overture of Hector Berlioz.

This program will especially benefit from the wonderful blend YSO is achieving this year. From the sweet homogeneity of the violin sections to the startlingly good intonation of the winds, the group maintains a unity of affect that perfectly suits the warm textures required by Romantic pieces. Though the cellos and horns might do with some intonation work, Hahm’s smooth control brings out the classic momentum of these monumental works.

Boris Berman, a professor at the School of Music, will be performing the piano concerto with the orchestra. Though generally his interpretations are guided by a sense of driven precision, in the Brahms he seems to combine that fastidiousness with a sense for the lush and the twinkling. His pedaling is generous (which is sometimes problematic in the frighteningly bad acoustics of Woolsey Hall) and his sensitivity to the sparkling quality of Brahms’ high register treatment is arresting, especially in the third movement. His aesthetic is reverently mirrored in the decisions Hahm has made for the orchestra. Perhaps a drawback to the elegance and sensitivity of the performance is the hesitation that the ensemble appears to feel in allowing the levity of the comedic passages to fall laughingly from their keys and bows. There are moments of comedy, but never with a lighthearted touch. Overall, however, the piece comes off to noble effect.

For the Berlioz portion of the program, Hahm sheds the hat of nobility to replace it with that of drama. In the Symphony Fantastique the composer’s obsession for his beloved is portrayed by the perpetual return to the idee fixe — a melody meant to represent her throughout the various movements. The symphony follows the composer’s drug induced dream through the various places in which he encounters the object of his affection: a ballroom; the country; a gallows; and finally, a witches’ Sabbath. Berlioz’s representations of these scenes is quite literal, and our orchestra delivers the narrative with admirable clarity. One of the most enjoyable (and superbly played) parts of the performance is the beginning of the third, pastoral movement (the country). Though written as a duet for English horn and off-stage oboe, Woolsey Hall delivers to us a trio. The full, mellow English horn sound Claire Shorenstein MUS ’04 produces, the painfully haunting oboe line Michael Barnett ’05 masters and the echo-chamber acoustics of the hall all conspire to create a stunning effect.

Attending this concert ensures a highly enjoyable Saturday night of heroic grandeur and dramatic passions.

For optimal clarity in the hall, try climbing up to the back of the second balcony. From there one is most likely to catch the subtle nuances of the evening.

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