Friday's ISO concert was an add-on to its original season schedule--meaning
season-ticket holders did not have tickets for this one. This may have
explained the rather poor turnout for a program dominated by two repertoire
warhorses. Young guest conductor Christoph König (a native of Dresden,
Germany) proved to have
an excellent grasp of Mozart's final symphony, No. 41 in C, K.551 ("Jupiter"), followed by
probably the world's most popular concerto, Tchaikovsky's No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, with APA
Fellow Sean Chen on the keyboard.
Mozart's "Jupiter" was the last of three he wrote in July
1788 on his own, without any commission or other sponsorship. He saw the growth
of that genre from its childhood--and his--to
its adolescence--and his--to its full
adulthood with those three, along with No. 38, the "Prague,"
from a year earlier. These last four, plus some of the late Haydn London
symphonies, defined the symphony as the dominant absolute-music form for the
19th century, a form which Beethoven then expanded.
König mostly succeeded
in revealing the complex harmonic and melodic tapestry of the
"Jupiter's" four movements, repeating the expositions of the first, second and
fourth, which should always be done. His third movement, labeled a minuet, went
too fast and was given an inappropriate waltz-like lilt. Those three beats to a
measure should have been in strict time, including the "trio" section, which
should have maintained the tempo.
On the other hand, the fugal fourth movement's fast tempo
was wholly appropriate, its five themes miraculously wound together at the end.
Herein König showed a few balance problems such that the strings were inaudible
when they shouldn't have been. Otherwise the performance thrilled, as hearing
the "Jupiter" often does.
The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto is the one standard from the 19th
century which manages to equalize the importance of the soloist with that of
the orchestra (most of the others place the orchestra in the back seat). Filled
with melody, memorable themes (one of Russian folk origin), motifs and bridge
passages all skillfully worked together save for the opening "Tonight We Love"
theme, which serves as a non-repeated introduction, the work mixes lyricism and
drama in as perfect a Gestalt as anything he wrote. Tchaikovsky failed to come
close to this achievement in his Second and his one-movement Third piano
König's dynamic shaping impressively showed his instrumental
forces at their best. But Chen's pianism was even more impressive, handling the
chords, the passage work, the octave jumps, the scale runs and the decorative
filigree (not much of that in this one) with general ease and assurance (even
with a few slips here and there). Chen played as a true APA Fellow.
The program opened with a seven-minute trifle, Supercell, by 24-year-old American Troy
Armstrong, which depicts one of the largest, most fearsome storms in the
mid-west, including tornadoes. Despite being a year-old contemporary piece, Troy
uses a rather conservative ensemble, not calling for "special effect"
instruments. In addition, his harmonic structure did not contain the dissonance
of much "new" music. But given the way these pieces go, I probably won't hear it again. April 11-12; Hilbert Circle Theatre