Review: Cheung offers up titanic works

The Altoona Symphony Orchestra began its 89th season on Saturday night at the Mishler Theatre in downtown Altoona.

Concertgoers heard titanic works from the Classic and Romantic periods as a rousing beginning to Teresa Cheung’s 10th year as conductor and music director of the ensemble.

The first half of the program consisted of two of Beethoven’s “heroic” period masterpieces. The “Leonore Overture No. 3” was more than just a curtain-raiser. We heard a sense of struggle and victory on a grand scale, although condensed into 10 minutes. There were quiet solos from trumpettist Kevin Eisensmith and flutist Diane Gold Toulson, yet it was the agility of the string section in the surging coda that made the biggest impression.

Cheung told us that this was her first time conducting Beethoven’s Fifth, that often-played symphony. If she needed the time to give a performance worthy of the work’s stature, then we were the beneficiaries for the wait, as she was able to bring out details I had not heard before, along with the overall sweep of emotion it requires. She was particularly animated in the finale, for it is the movement that answers all of the questions that the more-famous beginning initiates. It was thrilling to hear the eruptions in the horn and trombone sections at different times, as well as Dan Armstrong’s stout timpani contributions.

The second half of the program featured the Russian-born Adrian Daurov playing the solo in Antonin Dvorak’s “Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra.” Written right after his “New World Symphony,” this is another audience favorite — a combination of romantic melodies and Czech-flavored rhythms.

The cello is a bass instrument in the ensemble, yet Dvorak wrote the vast majority of the solo part in a higher range — one with the intensity to sing over the orchestra.

Daurov’s sounded as nimble as a violinist in those sections, and displayed a wide range of expression all over the instrument. I was astonished by his flawless execution of two melodies at once in the slow movement. Afterward Daurov mentioned that he enjoyed working with Cheung, and that “it is obvious that all of the musicians do, too — you can see it in their faces when the play.”