Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kansas City Symphony: Müller-Schott Elgar Cello Cto

This past weekend provided a cornucopia of great music making on both sides of the state. I usually hear the Kansas City Symphony on Saturday but since I was heading to St Louis to hear Skrowaczewski, I switched the Kansas City Symphony tickets to Friday. I certainly did not want to miss one of the rising stars of the cello world, Daniel Müller-Schott, perform the great Elgar Cello Concerto. Music Director Michael Stern was on the podium.

The program, all early 20th century pieces, had a common thread of wistful nostalgia for times never to be seen again. "Souvenirs", Barber's witty yet affectionate look back at a 1914 dance hall reverberating with tangos, schottisches and waltzes, opened the program. A charming and light hearted performance delighted the audience, most of whom I am sure were not familiar with this ballet score, which begs to be danced and performed more often.

Müller-Schott clearly relished the meaty, nostalgic and ultimately tragic Elgar Cello Concerto. Elgar's last major work from 1920 (he died 14 years later), was deeply influenced by Elgar's crumbling world. WW1 had ravaged Europe, the pomp and circumstance of Edwardian England was forever changed as monarchies adopted to a new more egalitarian world order, his wife was ill and dying, new musical forms had rendered his music passè. Disillusionment, angst, depression permeates this expressive yet strangely satisfying work. Müller-Schott dug into the stark opening chords, reveled in the intricate passage work yet sung the many exposed, stark melodic lines with appropriate pathos and a resonating voice. Stern and the orchestra provided a rich and appropriately brooding accompaniment with an excellent balance with the cello, important in the questionable acoustics of the Lyric Theatre.

Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, for a long time the only piece by Britten I could say I liked, received a stately and shattering performance. The more frenetic second movement (Dies Irae) could have used a bit more irony and power behind the strange, detached series of chords and yawps that end the movement; the last movement (Requiem Aeternam) glided to a deeply felt close that either bewildered the audience perhaps not familiar with the piece or, perhaps more to the point, left them deep in reflection.

Concluding the thought provoking program was Ravel's wickedly sardonic "La Valse". The work opened as if emerging from a fog, Stern and the orchestra expertly realizing the spooky, misty music. The crazed waltz spun almost out of control until crashing upon itself. I am sure many in the audience reveled in the sounds; the braying brass, fluttering flutes and soaring strings, oblivious to Ravel's program of a past world spinning itself out before collapsing in ruin.

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