Sunday, June 19, 2011

Season Finale Concert Bruch and Tchaikovsky

So yesterday I mused about the final performances of the Kansas City Symphony at the venerable Lyric Theatre. (Season Finale) As advertised, the orchestra treated the audience to a champagne celebration on the steps of the old girl, toasting her years of service. Before and after that, we were treated to a fine swan song of a concert befitting a grand theatre. Michael Stern, Music Director, led the orchestra in three crowd pleasing works, The Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn, the Bruch Scottish Fantasy with violinist Stefan Jackiw as solo and concluded with the grand and dramatic Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony.

By now you know that the triumvirate of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms are not on the top of my list of composers that I would take with me on the proverbial desert island. Mendelssohn's Overture (also known as "Fingal's Cave") received a fine but somewhat subdued performance from the orchestra. The winds as usual were in fine form, contributing to an agitated opening section, depicting the wild Hebredean seas. Stern kept the overture at a fair pace, but I did not feel the epic flow and grandeur that Mendelssohn saw in the rugged cave. Maybe the somewhat fussy and square Mendelssohn just couldn't put it into music. The strings were in good form as were the brass and spotless horns.

Stefan Jackiw (the unpronounceable looking name is Jack-eev I am told) has all the potential to be one of the finest violinists of his generation. At 26, he has made quite a name for himself with very mature, sensitive yet powerful performances. I have heard him in a wonderful Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto performance with the Russian National Orchestra and in a solo recital. Jackiw and Stern offered the popular Bruch piece (at almost 30 minutes truly a violin concerto and more than just a trifle "fantasy") in a somewhat relaxed performance. Jackiw's tone was always spot on and clear, even in the highest registers, which Bruch used to great effect in this truly Scottish tinged work. His double stop melodic lines could have easily come from a Scotsman's viol or pipes as he sang his long and winding tunes. If the slower movements were a bit leisurely, the certainly allowed Stern, the orchestra and soloist to milk every turn and intimate detail of this complex and full score.

Jackiw was magnificent in the second movement's earthy, bagpipe drone influenced, main melody with special shout out to principal flute Michael Gordon for his incredible duet with Jackiw in this movement, matching the soaring skittering violin in every note. The Andante sostenuto 3rd movement was sweetly singing but again a bit reticent. The popular dancing finale seemed to light a fire under all concerned, with Jackiw's constant double stops pristine and clear, with just the right amount of grit. Certainly the capacity audience appreciated the sensitive and detailed performance.

Used to be I would cringe whenever I knew the KCS horns were all exposed and important. The incredibly powerful opening horn figure of the Tchaikovsky 4th is one such place, but demonstrating the transformation from small town orchestra to regional powerhouse, the horns were solid, bright, commanding, powerful but not overbearing. I knew we were in for something special. Seemingly igniting as if this were the last time they would ever play period, the orchestra nailed every passage, followed Stern's brisk but never rushed tempo, relishing every surging, drama filled passage of this hyper-romantic work. Yet, as in the wistful waltz like center section of the first movement, the orchestra could hold back and produce some contrasting delicate sounds as well.

Fine wind work as usual, commanding yet well integrated brass, judiciously used but spectacular percussion (the wonderful 3 cymbal pair crash) and crisp and together strings abounded. In particular the pizzicato strings were magnificent in the swift and vibrant Scherzo. The festive and busy finale brought the work, the 2010-2011 season and the career of the Lyric to a grand conclusion.

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