The Toledo Symphony on Friday focused the spotlight on Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer with a remarkable career that spanned two continents and two centuries. The concert opening the symphony’s 2012-2013 Classics Series in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle drew a sizable and enthusiastic crowd.
Under the leadership of principal conductor Stefan Sanderling, and after a rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner, the musicians plunged into the composer’s Symphony No. 3. For the orchestra and probably most of the audience, it was a premiere, an odd fact given the long history of the orchestra and the fine quality of the piece.
Written in 1936, this third and final symphonic work is a complex, even puzzling admixture of romantic Russian melody and coolly intellectual orchestration. Wonderful rich textures, colors, and snippets of song are skillfully woven into the fabric of all three movements, yet the path connecting the parts is not clear or sustained.
The orchestra sounded a bit tentative in the first movement, but overcame that by the second with its wonderful instrumental solos and duos. The total effect was like visiting a large and diverse garden where flower beds seem to vie for attention and yet the power is in the overall richness of blossom and leaf.
The third movement repeated earlier themes and finally offered some sense of movement toward a finale, which was brief but exciting — just what the audience craved.
Those who hungered for overt melody had to have been sated by the second half of the program. It opened with a musical tribute to Edith Franklin, the artist and provocateur who died early this month: “Vocalise,” Rachmaninoff’s elegant and haunting elegy.
Then Martina Filjak swept coolly on stage and sat herself at the Orser piano, a rising star pianist making her Toledo debut.
From the first notes of Rach’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it was clear the Croatian artist owned the work and soon would appropriate hearts and minds of the audience. Her long, limber arms seemed to embrace the keyboard as she set up the opening movement and moved forward.
Particularly fine was Filjak’s take on the second, slower movement. She avoided all sentimentality and basically eschewed rubato to deliver a clean and honest reading, moving the music along briskly, keeping the very supportive orchestra hopping to maintain her tempo. Her take on the third movement was triumphant yet never boastful.
As a special reward for audience acclaim, Filjak played an encore: Scriabin’s Prelude for the Left Hand, part of the Russian composer’s Opus 9.
The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets are $22-52 at 419-246-8000 or toledosymphony.com or the Peristyle box office.