“This is music at its finest, music that makes us want to be a child again,” Stefan Sanderling told a receptive audience in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle on Friday night during a break in one of the liveliest and most pleasurable Classics Series concerts by the Toledo Symphony in recent memory.
Titled Symphonic Dance, it was, the maestro said, his attempt to wish Toledo a happy New Year in the fine Old World manner.
The program was a sampler of music by Dvorak, Bartok, Brahms, Kodaly, Enesco, and Liszt, inspired by songs, dances, harmonies, and rhythms of Hungary, Romania, and the former Czechoslovakia.
There was a pair of premieres, although only one sounded unfamiliar.
That was Bela Bartok’s “Dance Suite,” a commemorative 1923 piece honoring the 50-year anniversary of the uniting of Buda and Pest into a single city.
Built on folk melodies found during the composer’s travels around Hungary, with influences from the neighboring region, the music is spare yet intricate, casting these old songs in a modern light.
It summoned thoughts of how Aaron Copland, the U.S. composer, worked American folk tunes into stunning modern music.
Though divided into six distinct sections, it is holistic by design, with themes recurring throughout the work. The Bartok provided a wonderful showcase for the symphony’s consistently fine woodwinds, starting and ending with principal bassoonist Gareth Thomas.
The other premiere followed: Georges Enesco’s compelling “Romanian Rhapsody,” an emotional and stylistic counterpart to the cerebral Bartok. Wild gypsy tunes, rhythms, and a sense of spiritual fervor were intrinsic elements in this piece, which drew enthusiastic applause.
Noting audience reaction to the Enesco, Sanderling announced from the podium that Brahms’ most beloved Hungarian Dance — No. 5 — would replace the originally scheduled Dvorak Slavonic Dance Op. 46.
Following intermission, the orchestra played three more Brahms dances — from the full array of 20 — and did so in symphonic style, with no applause between the pieces.
No. 1 was robust; No. 3 was more refined, and No. 10 was a full-tilt exercise in musical excitement.
Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” reflected research and processing of folk song and dance from his hometown in western Hungary. Sanderling lavished praise on it: “It’s one of the greatest pieces of music of the 20th century,” he told the audience, which filled about half the Peristyle seats.
Once again, the symphony winds shined, particularly clarinetist Georg Klaas, flutist Joel Tse, and principal oboe Kimberly Loch. Polished to a shine, the performance certainly gave everyone a reason to like the Kodaly work, perhaps even love it.
But it’s not hard to find other works from the century past that would seem to have much more to offer.
Still, the overall effect of the evening’s program, which ended with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, was elation and exhilaration. Sanderling should program from his heart more often.
Or, in the words of a satisfied symphony customer walking out into the cold, windy night: “Now THAT was a FUN one.”
Symphonic Dance repeats at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets at $22-$50 are available at the door, at 419-246-8000 or toledosymphony.comwww..
Contact Sally Vallongo at: email@example.com