Sunday, October 05, 2008

Kansas City Symphony: Giancarlo Guerrero conducts Mozart, Liszt and Tchaikovsky

Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero has certainly made a splash in the music world these last few years. Recently appointed as Music Director of the Nashville Symphony, Guerrero has conducted many of the world's great ensembles and took the Eugene, Oregon Symphony to new heights. In this, his second appearance with the Kansas City Symphony, Guerrero infused a rather standard fare program with his boundless energy and technique.

Mozart's "Paris" Symphony # 31 opened the program. Despite Guerrero's energy, the opening Allegro assai dragged a bit in parts. Fine detailed lines and the usual fine job from the KCS winds helped to propel the movement, but I just felt a touch of disconnect between the podium and the orchestra. The slow Andantino had a nice gentle flow, and the finale (Mozart dispensed with the minuet in this 3 movement symphony, a custom in Paris at that time) gained the energy that was lacking in the opening. The many contrapuntal lines in the strings were well delineated, making for a satisfying conclusion.

German pianist Marcus Groh, who has made quite a name for himself as a Liszt interpreter, joined the orchestra for a flashy and bravura performance of Liszt's Piano Concerto # 1. To their credit Groh and Guerrero spotlighted the few subtle and lyrical passages in this work, better known for its flashing runs, jingling trills and banging chords. Groh impressed from the very beginning, wringing every ounce of drama from this admittedly showy and demanding concerto. The orchestra excelled in its supportive role, letting the piano rule but providing its own share of drama when called upon. One disappointment, a somewhat hesitant and timid triangle solo. Instead of challenging and commenting on the piano, it faded too much into the fabric.

The last half consisted of Tchikovksky's familiar Symphony # 5. As with the Mozart, I felt that the faster movements were slow to jell into a satisfying performance, but once the conductor and orchestra communicated, the music was allowed to sing. There were some fine moments; the wonderfully organ-like sounds from the low strings at the beginning of the andante second movement, a nuanced and satisfying first movement and some wonderful work by the orchestra's winds. The horn solo in the andante was sadly marred by some poor intonation that seemed to carry through to the end of the work. Although the last movement was slow to ignite, the famous barnstorming coda brought out the energy of the orchestra and conductor, so much so that at times I was enjoying Guerrero's ballet more than the music. A good performance and a fine concert.

As I watched and listened to Guerrero, I could not help but compare him to the current sensation Gustavo Dudamel. Both younger latino conductors with a decidedly energetic presence on the podium, Gurrero seems to concentrate a bit more on the mainstream repertoire and is a lot less flashy than his rival. It will be interesting to see these two grow and infuse their boundless energy and decidely latin world view on the world's stages.

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