Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kansas City Symphony: Vienna 1785-1911

Associate Conductor Steven Jarvi, now in his second year with the KC Symphony, got his (official) chance to conduct a subscription concert this weekend. I say official as he was pressed into service last season when Music Director Michael Stern was indisposed. Jarvi, a student of Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony in Miami and no relation to the other Jarvi musical family, chose a concert highlighting the music of Vienna from 1785 through to the end of the empire and the advent of Schoenberg and his "Second Viennese School". Music of Mozart, Schubert, Mahler and Richard Strauss comprised the demanding concert.

The only major disappointment of the evening was the opening Schubert Rosamunde Overture. The stiffly foursquare, totally forgettable run through was redeemed a bit by Jarvi's slashing, brash work up of the final pages, thus at least ensuring a brisk round of applause.

Much better was the Mahler Adagio from the Symphony # 10 that rounded out the first half; a performance that was a thousand times more committed and passionate than the Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin performance I heard in New York almost exactly a year ago. Jarvi spoke eloquently about the work before the performance, giving the audience a taste of what was going through the bitter, dying composer's mind at the time and demonstrating his own passion for the music.

The performance was quite excellent, marred only by some string intonation issues (usually in the fiendishly difficult pianissimo upper registers the composer demands) and a bit too aggressive brass. Unfortunately, when they were actually called upon to be brash, the trumpets bobbled their high-pitched blasts. But on the whole, Jarvi mastered this most incredible piece of music and notably negotiated the subtle change of gears in this long lined, linear work more successfully than Barenboim. The adagio is not a splashy, colorful work, so it is imperative that the tempo relationships are adhered to so as to provide some contrast and movement. Jarvi understood that was the key to bringing this movement to life.

My friend Gerry, who was with me for the concert, was bemused at my lack of applause after the performance. "You said you adored this piece... was it not a good performance?" "Frankly, it was excellent," I responded, "but you know me, I am old fashioned and thus do not clap between movements." So, with a quite successful Adagio under your belt, Maestro Jarvi, please tackle the completed Mahler/Cooke 10th. There is so much glorious music that should be heard more often. Yes, I know the second scherzo is somewhat of a mess, the first scherzo is a bit clunky and Mahler would have likely pruned the finale a bit... but damn what a symphony and I promise I will applaud.

Jarvi and the orchestra were at their height in the second half. Pianist Simone Dinnerstein joined the orchestra for the Mozart Piano Concerto # 21 in C K 467. Showing our age, Gerry and I were both surprised no mention was made in the notes of this being the famous "Elvira Madigan Concerto", springing from its use in a 1967 film about the tragic Swedish tightrope walker and her doomed love. We figured it was because many in the audience were not born by 1967 and had never seen or heard of the now obscure film.

In a previous recital by Dinnerstein, I noted her cool and somewhat detached style combined with a formidable technique. This style worked well in this swift, yet totally classic performance of this masterpiece. I was a bit put off, however, by Dinnerstein's splashy cadenzas. Although technically brilliant, to me they clashed with the simple elegance of this noble concerto. The KC Symphony winds and strings provided a most deft and perfectly balanced accompaniment, adding to the cool grace and elegance of this satisfying performance.

Bounding on the podium with a flourish (delighting his female cheering section seated to the left of me), Jarvi concluded his concert with the suite from Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavailer". The KCS horns were in full bloom tonight, contributing to a well turned performance that tended to drag just a bit as Jarvi swooned over and milked some of the more juicy waltz melodies. But the audience loved this crowd pleaser, bringing a well thought out concert to a close.

Sadly, this was the last performance with our wonderful concertmistress Kaniko Ito. Ms Ito's husband, Martin Storey, has landed a plum job as principal cello with the BBC Scottish National Orchestra and thus Ito will be moving on to Glasgow. What a loss for us. Godspeed Kaniko!

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