Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kansas City Symphony: Roberto Minczuk, a tour of Italy

A tour of Italy was the fare for the second concert of the new season of the Kansas City Symphony this weekend. Brazilian Roberto Minczuk, currently the Music Director of the Calgary Philharmonic and conductor of the acclaimed set of Villa Lobos "Bachianas Brasileiras" on BIS, was guest conductor.

The concert opened with a spirited, well paced performance of Verdi's 1855 Overture to "I Vespri Siciliani". As with the closing, less appreciated "Feste Romane", it was great programming to use one of Verdi's more traditional in form yet lesser known curtain raisers.

Continuing with lesser known Verdi, the Kansas City Symphony Chorus, sounding better than ever frankly, joined the orchestra in the "Quattro Pezzi Sacri", the "Ave Maria", "Stabat Mater" "Laudi alla Vergine Maria" and the last piece he wrote "Te Deum". The unaccompanied pieces "Ave Maria" and the "Laudi alla Vergine Maria" (for women only) were exquisitely sung with feeling and fine diction. The orchestral accompaniment tended to drown out the chorus, as usual, but Minczuk kept the balance as good as it gets in the horrible vocal acoustic of the hall. My only quibble would be that the performance was too resolutely reverent and solemn, making the over 40 minutes of the of four works tedious. The final "Te Deum" could have used more operatic drama, but certainly was well sung and played technically.

The second half featured two turn-of-the-century Italian masters, Ferruccio Busoni and Ottorino Respighi.

Busoni's music for Turandot is almost as colorfully oriental tinged as that of the more famous Puccini. Minczuk chose selections from the 1905 suite as a tempting taste of this neglected composer. Plenty of fine winds and percussion work in these sometimes chamber like vignettes. Those familiar with his fiendishly complex piano music and huge piano concerto ending with a huge choral finale, may find these colorful, fun miniatures surprising but satisfying.

Musical snobs love to disparage Respighi as solely a showman, a skilled orchestrator who used every instrument but the kitchen sink to thrill audiences with sound and color but little substance. I won't argue that point again; there is no mistaking that Respighi's music is challenging to the orchestra and splendid ear candy.

The final part of the Roman Trilogy "Feste Romane" from 1926 is the longest and most demanding of the trilogy, and thus is less often heard than "Pines" or even the softer, more impressionistic "Fountains".

Minczuk whipped the orchestra into a blood driven frenzy in the opening Circuses, the winds howling, the lions snarling, the martyrs praying while meeting their violent deaths in front of a bloodthirsty crowd. The Lyric's lack of a decent organ was the only let down, but the off stage, antiphonal herald trumpets were used to great effect.

The "Jubliee" was well paced, the trod of the pilgrims relentless but never dragging or plodding as in some performances. Principal horn Alberto Suarez was perfect in the demanding horn solos in the "L'Ottabrata", as was the rustic mandolin serenade.

The raucous, episodic "Epiphany" held together perfectly, highlighted by Roger Oyster's sloppy-drunk (those who know the music realize that is a actually a compliment) trombone solo.

A fine program, colorful, with works not always heard on the concert stage. Next up, looking forward to Berlioz's masterpiece Harold in Italy.


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