ISO features Cosmos Music Festival 

Music contained in the 1977-launched twin Voyager spacecraft

click to enlarge Soprano Shannon Love
  • Soprano Shannon Love

It's in the shape of a golden disk, large enough to contain 27 musical tracks, and representing many of Earth's different music cultures. Should Voyager encounter another sentient species in its vast trek across our galaxy, the hope would be that "they" can translate the images and sounds contained therein, thus learning something of our planet's cultural heritage. On Friday ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański launched the first of three weekend concerts devoted to the "cosmos."

Prior to the main concert and in place of Words on Music we heard four of the golden disk's chamber offerings: Bach's Prelude and Fugue from his Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2, with harpsichordist Silvia Scott; Bach's "Gavotte" from his solo violin Partita, played by ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue; Beethoven's "Cavatina" movement from his String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130 featuring four ISO string players; and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 for Trumpet, Strings and Continuo, again featuring ISO players.

A well-filled (appearing sold out) Circle Theatre assembled in time to hear Urbański open the main concert with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67, often pegged as the world's most popular of that genre. At its Viennese world premiere in 1808, it defined the first of a series of symphonies from the subsequent Romantic and Modern periods with a "strife to triumph" or "victory through struggle" theme--one which Beethoven himself emulated on a much vaster scale with his Ninth Symphony.

Hewing to more recent assessments of Beethoven's tempos, Urbański took the famous opening movement {da-da-da-duh . . .} at a faster clip than most 20th-century performances, using a minimum of phrase articulation. Still the orchestra's precision was practically spot-on. The Scherzo (third movement) came and went at a breakneck pace, with the cellos and basses barely hanging together in their fugal passage runs. Repeating the exposition of the fourth ("victory") movement, Urbański held his players together for the final triumph, and the ensuing standing ovation.

Guest soprano Shannon Love joined our forces after the break for the world famous aria "Der Hölle Rache" from the second act of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. One of the few repertoire arias calling for a high F several times, Love managed to reach it in each instance. But her vocalizing sometimes seemed a bit unstable in this admittedly difficult aria, her not quite landing squarely on some of her notes. Yet she projected well, considering her forward location on the extended stage. She was essentially singing to the main floor, whereas I was in the first mezzanine and felt somewhat "cut off."

Urbański concluded his program with Stravinsky's epoch-defining The Rite of Spring--the second time he's conducted this work since arriving here in 2011. Cast into 14 dances within two parts, the Rite calls for abrupt changes in mood, in loudness and in rhythm as one pagan ritual dance evolves into the next. Unlike in his earlier performance, Urbański managed the transitions much better in this one, from a whisper to a thunderous climax and from one orchestral choir to another. Following Part 1 - The Adoration of the Earth and before Part 2 - The Sacrifice, our conductor saw fit to stop and have his orchestra retune--ordinarily done only at a concert's beginning. Aside from honing their instruments, the break gave the players a perhaps needed rest. Jan. 22

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