The Greenwich Symphony opened its 2009-10 season last weekend with a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, marking the 200th anniversary of his birth with a performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.” Copland wrote this piece in 1942 as part of a series of commissions to celebrate famous Americans.
Robert Sherman, who has been with classical music radio station WQXR for more than 50 years, joined the orchestra as narrator. In the pre-concert talk, Sherman said that it was the composer’s wish that the narration “succeed not through acting but through the voice alone.” Sherman succeeded with this endeavor. His virtuosity is in his sense of timing and the way he paced the allocation for each narrated segment. He spoke with clarity and developed the power of the message from a sense of sincerity. It was a refreshing interpretation.
The Greenwich Symphony, conducted by Music Director David Gilbert, set a strong background for Sherman. The music was poised and dramatic, punctuating the text in coordinated silences and precise swells.
To close the first half of the program, pianist Tanya Bannister joined the orchestra as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, K. 488, in A-major. She played with kaleidoscopic touch. Bannister found many ways to shade lines and articulate ideas that shifted from the surface into deeper layers of the musical fabric. Her first-movement cadenza opened with Mozartian gestures before becoming stormy in a central passage and flashy at the point just before the trills sewed the movement back into place.The orchestra was not always focused and sounded heavy. As an example, the wind entry moments before the close of the Andante was loud, and crushed the delicate pizzicato texture of the strings and the witty line that Bannister was voicing. There were stronger moments in the Presto finale, where the ensemble rallied and sprinted, along with Bannister, to a rousing conclusion.