Those who came to the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Saturday to hear a fine amateur orchestra were treated to a world-class performance of the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 in C Minor (Op. 18) by pianist Charles Floyd and the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Yoichi Udagawa.
I have heard the Rachmaninoff Second more than a hundred times, and this performance was one of the most moving I can recall.
What made this rendition so special? Floyd, who is also a composer, simply takes the music seriously. It is not a vehicle for virtuoso display, nor a Romantic effusion like the “Warsaw Concerto,” but a tragedy, written by a man who has lost his country. The orchestra accepted Floyd’s vision and sounded at times like the Vienna Philharmonic, especially when the piano submerged itself and became an orchestral instrument of tremendous sonority.
Floyd played the entire score deliberately and thoughtfully, with long and appropriate pauses before introducing a new idea. The result was an enhanced setting for familiar passages and a revelation of details overlooked in lesser performances.
There are grave dangers in such an approach. As any piano teacher will tell you, it is much more difficult to play a piece slowly than rapidly. The performance walked a tightrope, just barely avoiding disintegration or loss of the music’s forward impulsion. That made it all the more fascinating, watching Floyd hold it together.
The advantages, however, included a revelation of the strong harmonic structure behind the popular melodies. The pianistic fireworks became floating transparent veils over a strong central core.
If Floyd chose his tempi to accommodate the orchestra, it certainly worked, but with even better results than could have been anticipated. Everyone played as if inspired, and the final, cleanly cut-off chord was met with a resounding standing ovation.
After intermission, the orchestra proved that the Rachmaninoff was not a fluke with a delightful performance of the monumental Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E Minor Op. 64. Udagawa’s tempos were right on and the lush melodies flowed smoothly. The inherent drama of the work was also highly effective, with a fine balance between the forces of good and evil.
The orchestra has developed to the point where it can execute a Tchaikovsky fortissimo without a hint of raggedness. All sections played well, but the horns, bassoons and brass choir deserve special mention. It is high praise to say that the symphony was not a letdown at all after what had gone before.
Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at: