Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kansas City Symphony, Joshua Bell

The stage at the Lyric Theatre was almost inadequate to hold the musicians that presented the latest concert in the Kansas City Symphony Classical season. Music Director Michael Stern directed with Joshua Bell as violin solo. The full program included the rarely heard Silvestre Revueltas “La Noche de los Mayas”, Bell as solo in three works, Corigliano’s The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra, Chausson Poème for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25 and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28. Respighi’s Pines of Rome as finale.

I, and most concert goers, know Revueltas mostly through the short tone poem Sensemayá, his most popular work. Despite his short life, (1899-1940), Revueltas was a major force in Mexican classical music with his vigorous, rhythmically complex and distinctly Mexican oeuvre.

La Noche de los Mayas (The Night of the Mayas), composed towards the end of his life in 1939, was actually a film score for a movie of the same name. Revueltas' score was arranged into a suite for large orchestra in 1960. The score includes a full accompaniment of winds and brass, 14 percussionists, piano and a conch shell horn. The four movements, La Noche de los Mayas, Noche de Jaranas, Noche de Yucatan, and Noche de Encantamiento are all atmospheric tone paintings evocative of the ancient Mayan people. The last movement is a virtual fiesta of percussion, braying horns and driving, primal rhythms. Although the last movement and the piece in general may go on for bit to long (about ½ hour) it is great fun and Stern led a lively, yet controlled performance that pleased the capacity audience, many likely hearing their first but hopefully not last Revueltas composition.

Joshua Bell needs no introduction as one of the major and most popular violinists of our time. His consummate artistry and communication (he actually plays as the many pictures of him show, with an intense concentration and athletic demeanor, a real showman but with the chops to back it up) was highlighted in three pieces, the Corigliano Chaconne from the Red Violin (which Bell played on the sound track) the Chausson and the Saint-Saëns. All were brilliantly performed, showing off the incredible tone of both Bell and the magnificent violin he plays. The Corigliano was of course authoritative, the Chausson (I admit to never being impressed with anything by Chausson, despite a great performance I remain that way) was atmospheric and tonally perfect. Saint-Saëns can often come off as cloying and even a bit pedantic, but the wonderful Introduction and Rondo was alternatively suave and lively. Stern is a frequent collaborator with Bell and their familiarity showed in these spot on, delicious performances.

Respighi’s familiar Pines of Rome completed this full evening. The orchestra’s bright and brassy tone perfectly fit Respighi’s concept. The more contemplative “Pines of the Janiculum” demonstrated the orchestra’s tender side and was marred only by a tentative entrance of the important clarinet theme. The stage was full again, now with organ, piano and 6 additional brass to add heft and grandeur to the final “Pines of the Appian Way”. A sure fire crowd pleaser.

Next season’s schedule was announced last night and continues the stellar programming we are now coming to expect, despite being consigned to the hinterlands. Joyce Di Donato, Daniel Muller-Schott, Dominique LaBelle, Midori, Nicola Benedetti (performing the US premiere of John Taverner’s Violin Concerto), Emmanuel Ax (world premiere of Steven Hartke’s Piano Concerto) and Peter Serkin are soloists. Major works include the rarely heard Mendelssohn “Lobgesang”, Mahler Symphony # 1, Sibelius 5th and David Diamond’s Music for Romeo and Juliet. A slightly more traditionally tinged season than the past few, that should still demonstrate the continued rise of the Symphony.

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