ISO concert special with Sean Chen

Pianist Sean Chen

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


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