The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of Mar. 21, 2004.
It was a night of contrast at Popejoy Hall on Friday as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra presented one extremely well-known work, followed by one not often performed. Conductor Roger Melone hosted pianist Gustavo Romero in the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, then led the chorus in the memorial work When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Paul Hindemith.
Since the movie Shine some years ago, the focus has turned to Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto for Piano. Before, it was the second concerto that was played, and often played to death, not only in the concert hall but on Hollywood soundtracks and in popular songs. The work's rich, dark Russian melodies will undoubtedly continue to make it a perennial concert favorite.
Guest pianist Gustavo Romero is the very image of a traditional concert pianist. He sits fully erect at the piano with an air of confidence and command. From the opening powerful chords, he transferred that visual image into his playing. Rachmaninoff himself had huge hands and wrists of steel, and this work is a contrast of lyricism and power. Romero has both. While the orchestra seemed somewhat lackluster in the opening movements, they caught the energy of the finale, working to a grand climax.
Hindemith's A Requiem for Those We Love is a tribute to two American presidents. It takes as its text Walt Whitman's poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, an ode mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln. When in the following century, another beloved president died in office, the composer at the urging of conductor Robert Shaw used the poem as a memorial to FDR and the Americans who fought and died in World War II.
The gift of melody was not among Hindemith's talents, and, along with his often spiky harmonic language, this is never an easy work to approach either for performer or listener---a shortcoming, incidentally, of composer, not listener.
Timothy Jones with his vibrant and commanding baritone voice deftly traversed Hindemith's challenging settings of Whitman's poetry, which declaims more than sings. The part of the mezzo-soprano is given primarily to the imagery of the ``gray-brown bird'' who sings plaintively of love and death. Mezzo Kathleen Clawson gave a moving performance that brought forth the melancholy foundation underlying the entire work.
But most impressive was the NMSO chorus which dramatically projected the full extent of the work's emotional power and drive. Many of the choral sections musically pit male voices against female voices in a counterpoint difficult to pull off effectively. The choral fugue and the Death Carol both brought the concert to its highest emotional pitch. There was no question that this performance was given with a heartfelt sentiment by the musicians and especially by Maestro Malone.
The text of the poem was projected above the orchestra by supertitles, a practice that seemed to me an excellent idea.