Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
25 October 2017
Well attended event. The performance of the symphony was not completely satisfactory. The evening’s highlight was Liszt’s concerto for piano and orchestra which was previously unknown to us. Mr. Mills mastered the technical difficulties of this interesting yet “bizarre original” work with elegance and skill.
“THEODORE THOMAS’S SYMPHONY SOIREE. The second soiree of the second season was given at Irving Hall on Saturday evening last. The programme was as follows… The symphony by Schumann is a fine work, though hardly equal throughout. The first subect is bold and grand in design, and is maintained clearly and powerfully throughout. It is particularly distinguished for its free and admirable treatment of both string and wind instruments. This movement was brilliantly executed, displaying a crispness and decision not often attained. The Larghetto is a beautiful tone-poem, tender and imaginative, and broad in its feeling, and marked by the most delicate and exquisite coloring. Its execution was not satisfactory—it was hard and unsympathizing. The Scherzo has a fine theme, in character by turns wild and sad and bold and spirited. The second part is weak. The last movement has a free and beautiful subject, and fine and ingenious in its sequential changes. It is exquisitely fanciful, worthy indeed of the delicate imaginings of Mendelssohn; at the same time it is broadly treated and colored with a master’s hand. This movement was most admirably performed, and especially we must mention the brilliant and delicate violin passages which were so delicately and clearly rendered. As a whole, this orchestral performance was highly creditable both to the orchestra and the conductor, Mr. Theodore Thomas.
Mme. Fleury-Urban sang two Italian selections, which displayed both her voice and her powers to excellent advantage. The production of her voice, as we have said before, is faulty, but her youth affords her ample time and opportunity to rectify this. Her voice is naturally fine, and is of a timbre which will bear cultivation without loss of quality. It appears to be naturally flexible, and in the mere point of execution she has but little to learn. Mme. Urban has evidently fine musical instincts; she has dramatic powers of a marked order, and with ambition to achieve, tempered by patience and study, she can assuredly select her own position and win it.
Mills performed Liszt’s grand and dramatic concerto, No. 1, for piano, magnificently. We use this strong term, as it alone can express the perfect technique, the dash, the spirit and the force which that master of the piano exhibited in his performance. In every point of execution, whether of delicacy, force, or sentiment, we could ask for nothing more for the perfect rendering of this concerto than he afforded us. It was, of all his public performances, the most brilliant, the most masterly, and the most entirely satisfactory. His execution of Chopin’s concerto, in B minor, was also on a level with the remarkable stride towards perfection that he has made in the few past months. There was more delicacy combined with sentiment than he has before infused into his interpretations of that master’s compositions. His efforts were rewarded by loud and prolonged applause, and he may be said to have made, on this occasion, the greatest success of his whole musical career.
Beethoven’s Overture Leonore No. 3, was played finely, the violins again demanding mention for their brilliant and delicate execution, and wound up a concert which was delightful from its selections, and gratifying from the faithful interpretation and execution of each piece on the programme.”
“Amusements. Theo. Thomas' Symphonie-Soiree. --The programme was not only interesting, but substantial; and we were glad to notice that in spite of the powerful opposition of the ‘African,’ on the other side of the way, the attendance was good. These entertainments are so meritorious that they deserve the heartiest support of the public, and, indeed, generally receive it. A fatality, however, attends classical concerts. The skies are ordinarily pitiless. Droughts of long duration have been broken up by the performance of a symphony. When it does not rain it is almost certain that there will be a dozen musical entertainments going on elsewhere, which, of course, makes it cheerful for the entrepreneur. Mr. Thomas is peculiarly unfortunate in this respect. His followers, happily are robust, and rally round him in spite of everything.
Schumann's first symphony in B flat major is sufficiently well known. It is regarded by many as the composer’s best effort, and in vigor and originality, free from eccentricity, perhaps it deserves this distinction. The succession of the movements is peculiar, but by no means unpleasant and the interest is certainly preserved to the end—no slight task when the length of the work is remembered. The orchestra played it with much spirit under Mr. Thomas' direction. Beethoven's glorious ‘Leonora,’ Overture No. 3 was the other purely orchestral work, and this, too, was executed superbly. The novelty of the programme, and its principal attraction was, Liszt's pianoforte concerto, No. 1 in E flat, played by Mr. S. B. Mills. The composition is of comparatively recent date, and is dedicated to the Abbé’s fussy henchman and friend Hans von Buelow, who has exploited it in public with success. It is never likely to pass into bungling hands, being royally hedged with every conceivable difficulty. When Liszt writes for Buelow he means a poser, and so in this concerto he starts airily with a cadenza, which if the player be in the slightest degree timid, is calculated to ‘lay him out’ gracefully without further ado. Mr. Mills is not of a nervous temperament. He stepped smilingly up to the scratch and came off victorious. We doubt if such playing has ever been heard in this city. The concerto, if it serves no other purpose, displays, at least, all the best successions and combinations of which the piano is capable. It is surcharged with passages, many of them of inordinate difficulty, and some that demand not merely fingers but sensibility for their just expression. Mr. Mills played with wonderful force and bravura; with singular clearness and finish; and with a purpose that almost made us think that Liszt had one when he wrote the concerto. It will be perceived by the last insidious remark that we have not swallowed the composition with entire relish. The leading motivo, we think, is ductile but commonplace; it can be turned into a dozen different shapes, and, in fact, has been so turned over and over again. The slow movement is only pretty. To dress these subjects gorgeously; to exhibit as much breastpin as possible; to display the greatest amount of watch-chain and ring and shirt-bosom, has been the evident intent of Liszt. He has done better when he has sought to do less. But writing for a pianist like von Buelow, and finding a better one like Mills, he has served a useful purpose. We know now how interesting passages may be made, from twice one up to twelve times twelve, or to speak musically, from the recitative up to the cadenza. We repeat that Mr. Mills’ performance was without a parallel in our recollection. The piano too, deserves a word of praise. It was one of a new scale recently introduced by Steinways. The quality of sound is enormous, and its quality can hardly be exaggerated. There appears to be no limit to the former, and no defect in the latter. Beneath the hands of a master, the response is almost human in its tremendous range of expression and intensity. With such instruments in our concert rooms, we enjoy a luxury of pianoforte music that is unknown in any other part of the world, for there is nothing like them elsewhere.
The vocal part of the concert was interpreted by Mme. Fleury-Urban, a lady who has a fine voice and a bad method.”