With January past its mid-way point, it was high time for
the ISO to present its first classical concert of the new year. And Friday's
nearly sold-out house witnessed one of the best played programs in quite a
while. Our music director, Krzysztof
Urbański, showed us that he can play Russian music to the nines. This first of three all-Russian concerts,
entitled Fate, Fantasy and War, gave us the fantasy part, saving its apropos
work till the end.
Urbański began with Prokofiev's Russian Overture, Op. 72, an episodic potpourri of rhythms, tempos and moods in the
composer's most mature style. A product of 1939, the piece vies
with some of his best music: the Fifth Symphony, the ballets Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet, the Third Piano Concerto (to be heard this coming
weekend), etc. Our
players sailed through all the overture's perorations with excitement and
panache. (Most unusually, Urbański conducted the piece using a score,
something I had not seen him do for any previous work not involving a soloist.)
Russian-born American violinist Philippe Quint appeared
next, soloing in Khachaturian's Violin Concerto in D Minor (1940). Though of Armenian heritage
(How many Armenian sur-names don't
end in -ian or -yan?), Khachaturian spent much of his time in Soviet Russia,
and is best known for his "Sabre Dance" from his Gayane Ballet.
His Violin Concerto continues the potpourri elaborated so
well in the preceding piece, with the violin engaged in much rapid passage work
throughout the three movements. At one point in the first movement
Quint's violin was a perfect match with the entire cello section, with no one else playing.
He displayed a rich but well restrained tone, making his
virtuosic work sound more legato than staccato. Unlike many popular Romantic
concertos, this one taxed the orchestra as much as the soloist. All came through
with flying colors.
Hornist Robert Danforth; oboist Jennifer Christen; flutist
Karen Moratz; cellist Ahrim Kim; clarinetist David Bellman; bassoonist John
Wetherill; -- and last but foremost -- concertmaster Zach de Pue and harpist
Diane Evans presented their special solo talents throughout the four "exotic" movements
of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade,
Op. 35, by far his most popular concert work. And while I think this paean to The Arabian Nights is too-often
programmed, Urbański and all these soloists made it come alive for me
From the static "The Sea and Sinbad's Ship" through "The
Tale of Prince Kalendar," "The Prince and the Princess," to the lively "The
Festival at Baghdad-The Sea-The Ship is Wrecked-Conclusion" Urbański chose
perfect tempos, taking the final movement much as a jet takes off a runway. Furthermore, the
orchestra maintained its precision in all four movements--with de Pue and Evans beautifully
intoning the Scheherazade theme at the work's beginning and end.
Considering how well realized Rimsky's fanciful
Middle-Eastern themes were wrought, it's a shame the composer didn't emulate this
thematic style in a more symphonic work--something elaborating a more continuous
sense of motion and development. But wait a minute! He did! It's just
never performed (but often recorded)--his Antar Symphony (No. 2 in
F-sharp Minor, Op. 9).
Revised a number of times from 1875 to 1903, Debussy considered
it to be Rimsky's finest orchestral work. Would Urbański be game to try it
next time around? I
think the audience would be game to listen. Jan.