Concert pianist Orli Shaham played Sunday as if Bela Bartok had written the Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major for her instead of his wife. Shaham, renowned on four continents for her technique, passionately and exuberantly embraced the complex composition for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s Winter Dreams concert
Bartok wrote the concerto as a birthday gift for his wife, pianist Ditta Pásztory-Bartok, who was more than 20 years his junior. Bartok died in 1945, about five weeks before her 42nd birthday, with all but the final 17 measured orchestrated. Bartok’s friend, Tibor Serly, completed the concerto and it was first performed Feb. 9, 1946, by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Unlike Bartok’s first two piano concertos in which there is a sense of conflict and competition between the orchestra and the pianist, the players support the soloist, according to the program notes. Knowing that and what Bartok’s intention was in writing the piece, this third concerto is a sound portrait of a marriage — a long, loving and dynamic relationship.
A soloist of Shaham’s caliber challenges the orchestra members. Under the baton of maestro Lucas Richman they nearly always meet that challenge as they did Sunday at the Collins Center for the Arts. The audience rose to its feet and applauded until Shaham returned to the piano for an encore that was met with hushed appreciation.
She played a transcription for piano of J.S. Bach’s Prelude in B minor by Alexander Siloti, according to Brian Hinrichs, executive director of the BSO.
“Siloti died the same year as Bartok, in 1945. But he was a Russian, who at one point studied under Tchaikovsky,” he said Monday in an email. “It fit just perfectly in the context of the program.”
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 gave Sunday’s program its name. It is full of winter imagery from the swirling sounds of skaters on frozen rivers to the cracks of the ice going out on ponds to the struggles of the crocuses to reach above the still cold soil. The orchestra attacked this piece as if spring would rise up, defeating winter, and performed it defly.
One of Richman’s strengths as a music director is his ability to blend familiar pieces such as the works of Bartok and Tchaikovsky with those of lesser known composers. Sunday’s concert opened with the overture to the opera “The Bartered Bride” by Bedrich Smetana. Because it is sung in Czech, a language unfamiliar to most opera singers, it is rarely performed in the U.S. The piece was intriguingly layered and complex. It left the audience yearning to see the whole story. It also served as a wonderful introduction to Bartok’s love sonnet on the piano.
The orchestra continues to delight and surprise audiences under Richman’s leadership as he pushes orchestra members to perform with precision and passion.
The next BSO concert will be the annual pops concert, The Wonderful Music of Ox at 4 p.m. March 18. The next classical conder with Mozart and Beethoven at 3 p.m April 8. Both will be performed at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine.
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