Thursday, May 11, 2006

Formosa Seasons

Although hastily arranged and not completely marketed to the public, the Kansas City Symphony and soloist Cho-Lang Lin produced a satisfying “Recording Preview” concert last evening at the Folly Theatre. The concert featured the “Formosa Seasons” by Gordon Chin, to be recorded this week by the Symphony and Cho-Lang Lin under the direction of Maestro Stern. The Grieg Two Elegiac Melodies for string orchestra and two sections of the Vivaldi Four Seasons completed the concert.

The true raison d’etre for the concert was the Chin piece. The “Formosa Seasons” will be the companion piece on the Naxos recording of the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello that the orchestra performed last month.

The 23 minute work was written for Cho-Lang Lin as a companion piece to the Vivaldi Four Seasons. Not a literal musical depiction of the seasons as in Vivaldi, but as the soloist stated, depicting the composer’s memories and feelings of life on Taiwan. Being a semi-tropical island, Formosa does not have the strong contrasting seasons as in the US and most of Europe. However, the feelings were much the same. Summer brought memories of crickets chirping and the languor of the heat. Autumn was, well... autumnal, with rich chords and a more wistful, romantic feeling. Winter was appropriately more bleak in tone and fragmentary in melody and phrasing. Spring was short and brisk, with dance rhythms that the soloist said were recollections of the composer’s childhood visits to the mountains outside Taipei and the children playing in the flowers.

Cho-Lang Lin communicated the solo lines brilliantly and also skillfully realized the sentiments behind them. The crickets chirped, the children danced and the resignation of autumn was carefully controlled, never slick or coy. Barb, my companion for the evening, was totally taken by Cho-Lang Lin and his obvious love for the work and for his sensitive and committed playing. Why he is not an international superstar is beyond me.

The small scale string orchestra accompanied the soloist effectively and also showed the skill and commitment of the Symphony strings. Barb and I both agreed that the “Formosa Seasons” was even more successful than the Double Concerto, frequently due to the less ambitious scale of the work and more focused writing for the smaller ensemble.

I was impressed by the brisk and virtuosic Four Seasons selections, the “Winter” in F minor and the “Summer” in G minor. Cho-Lang Lin obviously has an affinity for this music and the orchestra as a fine accompaniment.

Short, fun and enlightening, we need more concerts like these.

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