Sunday, February 21, 2010

Kansas City Symphony: Pahud Premiere Lombardi Flute Concerto

Saturday weather was "miserable" (see my continuing rant about that in previous post) but not so in the Lyric Theatre where the Kansas City Symphony under the direction of Music Director Michael Stern presented a diverse concert of works ranging from Beethoven, Rossini and Tchaikovsky to a new work by Italian Luca Lombardi, a Flute Concerto for Emmanuel Pahud.

The concert opened with the sprightly and high spirited overture to "La Scala di Seta" (The Silken Ladder). The fine KCS winds contributed their usual colorful commentary with special note to the fiendish and important oboe and flute solos. Stern whipped up a fine Rossini crescendo to bring this short but highly amusing curtain raiser to a rousing close.

Beethoven's Symphony # 8 is often seen as an odd man out in his cannon. Sandwiched between the grandly dancing and rhythmic 7 th and the monumental 9th, the shortish 8th harks back to the early 1st and 2nd and even back to Haydn; it even has a minuet for god's sake. Stern and the orchestra gave this most carefree and light hearted of Beethoven's symphonies a brisk and incisive performance. The ensemble was quite together and technically excellent, only a couple of exposed brass bobbles to mar the surface. Stern took care to balance the orchestra so that all the inner voices and counter melodies could be heard in this breezy but still substantial masterpiece.

The second half began with the world premiere of a new Flute Concerto by Luca Lombardi written for and premiered by Swiss flute virtuoso Emanuel Pahud.

Lombardi is a new name for me, and a search of online record outlets show little or nothing of his output is available in the US. Born in Rome in 1945, Lombardi studied mostly with the deans of German new music in the 60's and 70's, Stockhausen, Kagel, Pousseur, B. A. Zimmermann, and Rzewski. He has written over 160 works including 2 symphonies and much chamber music.

The concerto, in 3 untitled movements, is based on a recurring 3 note theme, recalling the opening flourish of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. From there the flute and orchestra construct and de-construct this motive, stretching it, tossing it from solo to orchestra and from group to group. Tonally lyrical passages are interrupted by clangorous outbursts from the orchestra. The final section pits a dreamy flute solo in the middle range over slowly shifting strings, soon to be interrupted by the 3 note theme leading into the second movement. This movement continues the slower mode with long, melismatic, almost oriental passages for the flute. The breathy quality of the flute is celebrated in the last half of the second movement with contributions from rustling leaves and wind machine from the percussion. The 3 note theme is quietly passed around from flute to harp and celesta borne on a frosty wind.

The 3rd movement is musically wonderful, but problematic in execution. Suddenly the flute comes alive and assumes an unknown persona. The soloist turns to face the orchestra and in mock anger verily spits high raspberries at the orchestra, concertmaster and the conductor. As the orchestra comes in, the soloist looks about in confusion; at one point Pahud walks over to the conductor and glances at his score and shakes his head. For a while the quiet middle music theme returns, Pahud coaxing some highly strange sounds from his gold flute; frequently perfectly imitating a violin pizzicato. The solo becomes more angular and agitated, the 3 note theme is tossed around until a major chord right out of Hollywood puts an end to the chattering. What is the flute's response? He holds on to a low, shallow note and blows the final flourish right at the conductor.

It got some chuckles and even some nervous twitters as some where not sure what was happening. But despite the theatrics, the work is a true show piece for the talents of Mr. Pahud from the fiendish runs and register leaps to the long slow melodies of the middle movement. The composer draws upon a colorful palate from the huge orchestra ,5 horns, triple winds and brass, contra-bassoon, English horn, bass clarinet, harp, celesta and a ton or two of percussion. The big ensemble never overwhelmed the flute, Pahud's silky tone always rising above the fray. The audience gave the work a heartfelt ovation. Hopefully this work will merit a recording as there is so much going on that is missed in a single hearing.

The concert concluded with the popular Tchaikovsky tone poem "Francesca da Rimini". A perfect foil for the more light hearted and playful music preceding, Stern drew a powerful performance from the orchestra, whipping them to a rousing conclusion fitting for the "turmoil of Hades".


Geoffrey said...

I'm a HUGE fan of Emmanuel Pahud but am unsure about this work. I am very happy that he chose to play the work himself with the KC Symphony....that's a true honor for the orchestra and Mr. Stern. (Besides, Pahud is gorgeous!)

Anonymous said...

I was there and I liked the whole concert, especially the new piece by Italian composer Lombardi, which is full of ideas, but unitarian and albeit new,"beautiful"(which doesn't occur often in contemporary music...). Jonathan Stone.