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Sinfo Nova's passionate performance may be its last


Conducted by Aram Gharabekian.

Vladimir Krainev, piano soloist.

Dennis Alves, trumpet soloist.

Jordan Hall, April 28.

Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.



HIS SEASON has been the highlight of my musical career, and I'm looking forward to continuing," said a SinfoNova musician to conductor Aram Gharabekian at the reception following last Saturday's concert. Spotting an over-busy reporter's notebook, the musician said that the quotation was not for attribution: "I play for the BSO and the Boston Pops. It's the absolute truth, but if this got back to anyone, I'd be in trouble."

The musician's pleasure at participation sums up SinfoNova, the orchestra with the special sound, the special identity and the massive financial problems which might make last Saturday's concert its last.

Saturday's audience was greeted with flowers in the SinfoNova color -- yellow -- Symphony chocolate bars, and pledge forms. But it was the music which counted, and the orchestra played with a passion that made this concert one of their best.

The evening began with Four Armenian Folksongs and Dances by the Armenian composer, Komitas, and SinfoNova inflected them with a heady, rhythmic pulse. SinfoNova's strings sounded rich and full of expression, never short on vigor as they propelled the festively folksy music through the air.

Soviet superstar pianist, Vladimir Krainev, next joined the orchestra for a performance of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor for piano, trumpet and string orchestra, Op. 35, molded of fire and song. Krainev's touch was unbelievable: for the more adrenal passages his precision of attack transformed the Steinway into a perfectly-trained staccato machine, each note sounding out crystal clear as it hammered home its message with pungency.

Krainev's sparkle showed up during lighter passages, too, gestures of playful humor generating sheer delight.

Dennis Alves contributed some notable solo work on trumpet, his sound bright, brilliant, and laced with good humor. SinfoNova's strings rounded out this remarkable showing with a smooth lyricism of dance-like eloquence; they were ever-alert to changing textures and tensions, and responsive to the elements of pathos in the music, too.

Krainev returned after intermission <>

to play the impossible: a piano concerto surely not intended for human hands. Schnittke's Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, given its American premiere by SinfoNova on Saturday, is a work of impossible intensity, but Krainev captured every thunderous note with a gossamer attack which allowed no mush, and enabled each tone to shine through.

SinfoNova's strings played trenchantly, a mass of tension, yet endowed with a clarity which exposed the work's complexities and allowed them to sing through. Were there hints of 1812? What agonies were hereby conveyed? And what spirituality? Schnittke's music asked many questions, the orchestra and soloist built up possible replies, and left the audience with much musical food for thought.

The evening ended with a stiff account of Dvorak's Serenade for String Orchestra in E, Op. 22, and -- as an encore -- with Schoenberg's altogether humorless arrangement of Johann Strauss' waltz, Roses from the South. The rather tired-sounding strings gave it an altogether wooden treatment, as if it was not already staid enough. Soomi Lee's vibrant piano playing failed to rescue it. These concluding infelicities may, however, be forgiven, following as they did an evening of extraordinary music-making, which clearly demonstrated how much SinfoNova deserves to be a permanent fixture of the Boston arts scene.