November 23, 1999

Symphony’s Russian program rich in technical virtuosity

ASHEVILLE – Playing the impassioned, exciting music of three great Russian composers, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Hart Baker was in top form Saturday evening before a large audience in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

Although Asheville audiences are overly fond of responding to even the most mediocre performance with a standing ovation, Saturday’s efforts by orchestra and soloist -were richly deserving of the most emphatic accolade an audience can offer.

After a spirited performance of Tchaikovsky’s crowd-pleasing “Marche Slav,” the orchestra and distinguished young Russian soloist Oleg Marshev presented a masterful interpretation of Sergei Prokofiev’s formidable “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26.”

In recent years, Asheville audiences have heard no pianists, with the exception of Dmitri Ratser, capable of meeting the huge technical demands of this work. Marshev has in abundance the virtuosity, the grand keyboard flourishes and the showmanship, which declare him a true artistic descendant of Rachmaninoff and more than a match for Prokofiev, the pianist-composer.

Throughout his performance, Marshev moved effortlessly from simple chords to quiet, meditative musical statement, to lengthy sections characterized by triplets and passage work and to towering crescendos designed to display a brilliant, daunting keyboard virtuosity. Not to be outdone, the orchestra played sensitively, accurately, and with great energy, meeting completely the great technical demands of the composer.

The spirited musical exchanges between piano and orchestra in the final movement were extremely satisfying. The only obvious flaw in the performance occurred in a quiet place in the first movement, when the French horn began a musical phrase with a less-than-successful attack.

To conclude the evening’s concert, the orchestra offered a beautifully played performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27.” It is not easy to generate audience excitement with a piece filled with melodies as well known as those in this symphony, but conductor and players succeeded in doing so. Faultless intonation, excellent playing, realization of the many shifts in dynamics, exploitation of the many orchestral colors, and complete expression of’ the score’s exquisitely-shaped melodies made Rachmaninoff’s evocative music come alive for everyone in the hall.

Martha Fawbush