By Lawrence Budmen

John Corigliano composed his Symphony No.1 in 1990 as a response to the loss of friends and artistic colleagues to the AIDS virus. Nearly two decades later, the piece has achieved the status of an American classic. 

The New World Symphony capped its concert Saturday at the Lincoln Theater with an emotionally searing performance of Corigliano’s journey from anger, frustration, and angst to final resignation.

In the grand tradition of Mahler and Shostakovich, Corigliano has fashioned a kaleidoscope of layered instrumental textures. Shrieks from winds and brass disrupt a nightmare tarantella, a portrait of dementia. In the third movement Chaconne, the composer unfurls the kind of impassioned string writing that won him an Oscar for his score for the film The Red Violin. The symphony’s Epilogue builds to a massive climax, then ebbs away to a solo cello that fades into infinity. 

Led by Alasdair Neale, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, the New World musicians exhibited prodigious virtuosity. Eschewing melodramatic exaggeration, Neale, a musician of taste and discernment, led a shapely, vital performance.

He powerfully captured Corigliano’s sound world with its panoply of timbres and extremes of volume. In the third movement Giulio’ s Song, Soo Jee Yang’s richly burnished cello solo wove a deeply moving elegy. Prior to the performance and between movements, fragments of the AIDS quilt were projected on a screen behind the orchestra, enhancing the impact of this challenging, disturbing score. 

Corigliano’s soundscape tended to eclipse the remainder of the program. The New World’s conducting fellow Steven Jarvi opened the evening with a heavy handed, overly loud account of Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolan. 

Orion Weiss, a recent Julliard graduate and student of Emanuel Ax offered a youthful traversal of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. Weiss possesses a solid technique but he was hampered by a harsh sounding Yamaha with a limited tonal spectrum. 

Despite a fiery cadenza, the pianist’s approach to the first movement was episodic and uneven. Though revealed a penchant for finely spun lyricism in the Adagio and the middle section of the finale, his performance of this pianistic warhorse lacked romantic grandeur and sweep. Neale provided an alert, energetic accompaniment.

For an encore, Weiss played Remembrances, the last of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, with delicacy and élan. 

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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