Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in Review: Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff

Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in Review: Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff
David Bernard, conductor
Karine Poghosyan, piano
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1
Rachmaninoff Symphony No 2
February 13, 2011

David Bernard conducting the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony; photo credit Stefan Cohen

The generosity of spirit and affection that infuses the work of two of the most beloved Russian composers, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, must be genuine and heartfelt in a good performance.  By this standard, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony scored a triumph in their rendering of two of these composers’ most iconic works, in a recent concert at All Saints Church.  The Armenian pianist Karine Poghosyan joined the orchestra for the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto in what proved to be a warm and sympathetic collaboration. 

The venue for the concert worked both for and against the artists.  As churches go, All Saints is small and intimate, where a good deal of the audience practically sits right on top of the orchestra.  While this allows for a more visceral experience of the music, the acoustic can be simply overwhelming and indistinct in the loudest and most densely textured orchestration.  And what else could explain the choice of a baby grand piano for the concerto but a simple lack of available floor space?  In spite of these liabilities, there was still much to admire in the performance. 

Ms. Poghosyan is a relaxed and natural musician, very obviously at home in the Tchaikovsky.  Her technique is big and secure, with blazing octaves, clean articulation, and a beautifully weighted touch.  More importantly, her virtuosity was not a shallow display of party tricks, but a tool for musical expression. Although it was a disservice to hear her on such an inferior instrument, her strengths were not diminished.  

David Bernard, the Chamber Symphony’s Music Director, led both pieces from memory, with clarity and a sense of spontaneity, even in such well worn repertoire.  Despite occasional struggles with ensemble and intonation, the orchestra played with a strong sense of style and commitment.  Several soloists offered impressive playing, notably the principal cellist and oboist in the Tchaikovsky, and the clarinet and English horn in the Rachmaninoff.  Special mention must be made of the string ensemble in general, who, under the guidance of Mr. Bernard and their concertmaster, David Edelson, play with the depth and fervor of the old school European orchestras.