Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kansas City Symphony:Recording Preview Concert

In addition to being uniformly excellent, the Kansas City Symphony can also be called “gutsy”. A new recording from the New York Philharmonic seems to be a world wide event due to its rarity, and we here little or nothing out of former recording giants Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago. So here is our local band awaiting the release of its 5th recording, is in the process of recording its 6th and has the 7th in the planning stages. How things have changed.

The Kansas City Symphony is also gutsy in its choice of works to record. Often, regional orchestras record works that perhaps they have premiered, have a local connection or are not exactly standard repertoire. The Kansas City recordings have featured works by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Prokofiev and Bartok, to name a few, that are standard repertoire or have “definitive” recordings. The current project, again being recorded by Reference Recordings, is a blend of the familiar and rare: an all Saint-Saëns disc with the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra op. 28 , the less known “La Muse et le Poete”, op 132 for Violin, Cello and Orchestra and the popular Symphony # 3 “Organ” op 78. Concertmaster Noah Geller is the violin solo, Principal Mark Gibbs is on cello and Jan Kraybill handles the Cassavant organ. Michael Stern was on the podium.

"La Muse et le Poète," for solo violin, solo cello and orchestra orchestra is undoubtedly the least known of the three works. A Late work, La Muse shows the influence of Debussy, Ravel and the younger French school, with its denser harmonies, lush orchestration and rhapsodic form. The two soloists are rarely heard together, the work is more of a spirited conversation than any deep, dramatic encounter. Both violin and cello are treated to many virtuoso passages, which both Geller and Gibbs negotiated with poise and flair. This recording has some competition, notably with Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis that seems to be out of print, but on first hearing, this well recorded and passionate performance should stand up nicely.

The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is a much earlier work (1863 ), written in Spanish mode for the virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. Plenty of competition for this short but always entertaining chestnut, but on first hearing this performance stands well with the rest. Geller's tone was always precise and clear, his rubato in the famous rondo theme was just right, the many double stops perfectly executed and always sympathetic orchestra accompaniment. The dramatic introduction was pleading and romantic, a perfect foil for the more animated rondo.

The well known Symphony # 3 “Organ” will complete the disc and thus was the finale for the evening's program. The orchestra chose this work to inaugurate the organ back in June of 2012 and this performance, with Jan Kraybill at the organ instead of Paul Jacobs, was quite similar. Impressive then as now was how well the organ was integrated into the whole orchestral fabric. The whole performance was stately with a quite slow second movement that might not find favor with all but certainly accentuated the lushness of the movement. The organ's grand entrance in the final movement was grand but not earth shattering; again it was more integrated to the texture. Stern kept the final moments under control as well, not letting the tympani blows turn into a frenzy of uncoordinated sound and fury. A cool-ish performance, some might want it more white hot, but this one concentrated on the music not the showmanship.

Another star of the evening was the array of microphones arranged for the recording. Not only did they threaten to send Maestro Stern and the soloists flying off the stage, the raising of the microphone stand to capture the organ got a hearty ovation itself.

Look for a new Reference Recordings Kansas City Symphony release soon: Prokofiev “Love for Three Oranges”, Hindemith “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber” and the Bartok Suite from the Miraculous Mandarin.

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