Review: Albany Symphony shines in return to Proctors; assistant conductor from Philadelphia Orchestra impresses

08 January 2022

The Albany Symphony Orchestra presented its first concert of the 2022 season Saturday night in a return engagement to Proctors after almost a two-year absence. Not only did they perform splendidly, especially on one of the great orchestral works of the repertoire, it was also the debut of conductor Erina Yashima, the assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Although Yashima has spent most of her education in Germany, she’s worked with two of the greatest conductors around: Ricardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Yannick Nezet-Seguin, music director of the Philadelphia. She showed she’s got the stuff: a clean, precise, tight stick technique and a strong, confident presence. She led the orchestra through a varied program with great aplomb with the musicians alert to her every gesture.

Opening the show was Vivian Fung’s “A Child’s Dream of Toys.” The piece’s inspiration was a three-year old’s unlimited energy. Except for a few moments when the tempo slowed a bit, it was a raucous, busy adventure with the level of volume punctuated with percussive strings and no melody but plenty of rhythm. Strings slithered, brass glissandoed, woodwinds flutter-tongued, there was a whistle, a bit of xylophone — everyone was involved. There was no tonal center. It was a huge contrast to the rest of the program.

Violinist Maya Anjali Buchanan, 21, was the soloist in Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto (1905). Dressed in a long, rose-colored gown with a sparkly bodice, she played this very romantic work with a deep rich tone, facile technique and a sweetly romantic lyricism. The piece itself is very nostalgic, reminiscent of those 1940s films of heartbreaking romance. There were melodies galore with occasional technical forays of double stops, harmonics and fast runs. The cadenza added florid embellishments to the main theme but the finale had a few fireworks. Sometimes, the pulse tended to sit rather than move forward but as the pace quickened, Buchanan’s technique became more fluid. The orchestra gave her great support and the audience gave her plenty of cheers.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s marvelous “Scheherazade” was a show stopper. Aided by the sensational guest concertmaster, Nikki Chooi, who is the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s concertmaster and a noted soloist, the orchestra thrilled the large crowd. Chooi, who is the voice of Scheherazade, played with a forceful but exquisite sensuousness in his many solos.

From the lush strings to the bravura brass section to the individual soloists within the woodwinds, the orchestra played with zeal and great capability. Yashima often asked for a big round expansive sound and got it. Tempos were traditional. Because the work is divided into four sections, there was an expected lack of continuity. But forward movement throughout was generally strong with only occasional moments where connections could have been smoother.

It was a joy, however, to hear those waves of sound surging, underpinned by the stalwart brass over which Scheherazade’s voice sang. Exuberant cheers and a standing ovation were well deserved.

The next ASO concert is Feb. 12 at the Palace Theatre with works by Kendall, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.