Overseas guests dominate 2nd Russian Festival concert 

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click to enlarge Pianist Vadym Kholodenko
  • Pianist Vadym Kholodenko

"Brilliant" so aptly describes Friday evening's seventh ISO classical program and second Russian Festival program that I may end up using the term more than once.   Two standards of the repertoire comprised the concert: Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.  The podium guest was brilliant young Han-Na Chang, 32, from S. Korea; the keyboard guest was brilliant young Vadym Kholodenko, 29, the Gold Medalist of the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition from Kiev, Ukraine.  Though brilliant (as I said) describes this concert from start to finish, it lacked the near-perfection of the preceding Friday's first Russian program.

Spectacular is an adjective I could apply to Kholodenko's keyboard prowess.  This best of the Russian-Soviet composer's five piano concertos is  filled with nostalgic whimsy (or just possibly whimsical nostalgia), and sparkles with all the brilliance of which Prokofiev was capable.  Kholodenko displayed just the right tempo with the right nuances, a perfect touch with optimum pedaling and a self-assurance of his resources such that we knew that he knew he was in complete command and control.   

With Chang using graceful, even balletic baton motions, she easily held her end of the bargain.   This was the best Prokofiev Third I've ever witnessed--by itself a five-star performance.  Kholodenko returned for an encore, the Ground in C Minor by English Baroque composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695).  I did not know it; he did not announce it--and thus I had to ask.  It sounded like a later arrangement as our artist played near the bottom of the piano's compass--below that of a harpsichord.

click to enlarge Guest conductor Han-Na Chang
  • Guest conductor Han-Na Chang

Though Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony is generally rated below his Fourth and his Sixth, I'd incline toward favoring only the sixth above the preceding two.  The Fifth is dominated by its "fate" or "providence" motive being heard in one guise or another (major or minor key) in each of its four movements.  David Bellman's clarinet opens with it, till it's shunted aside in favor of a march motive, the first movement's signature.  It's picked up again only at the symphony's end, perhaps for the composer to show us that he wasn't perpetually stuck with the providence motive.

Chang began the work showing absolute control over her standard Romantic orchestra (absent the bass drum).  In the first movement's Allegro con anima section, her control of her players' "animation" was remarkable--exciting even.  Then ISO principal Robert Danforth's horn solo, opening the slow movement (Andante cantabile), introduced us with perfection to another memorable Tchaikovsky theme, leading to yet a counter theme, the two playing over the movement with two harsh interruptions by the providence motive: It was nicely put together.  And so it went with the Waltz movement which followed--Tchaikovsky at his balletic best, but ending with a glum statement of providence, again.

Somewhere, possibly in the fourth movement, Chang lost her baton; I didn't see it but heard about it afterward from patrons as we were exiting.  When transitioning from the Finale's Andante maestoso to the Allegro vivace section, Chang momentarily lost control of her players.  There was a total cacophony of sound. Then, remarkably, our forces just as quickly coalesced again, and with Chang's racing tempo, they were hanging on for dear life. With the excitement came a fear of their unraveling again, but they didn't.  Chang would have been better served with a slightly reduced tempo--in this section only.  Otherwise her conducting was . . . brilliant. Jan. 30; Hilbert Circle Theatre   

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