Thursday, November 07, 2013

How I Feel

Substitute writing for talking and that is sometimes how I feel about "Pictures on Silence". I think I am reasonably good at music writing, not good enough for some people, but better than the hack jobs I have read in some publications. I get a few reads here and more at the actual publication to which I contribute now and then, but I will never make a living at it.

So it is a labor of love, it feels a need I have to express my voice. I should do it more often, I suppose, but I am really a terrible dancer.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Kansas City Symphony: Dramatic Works by Saint-Saëns, Strauss and Tchaikovsky

When 18 year old Park University student Behzod Abduraimov won the London International Piano Competition in 2009, he not only became a local musical hero but garnered world wide attention and acclaim. He has performed world wide, inked a contract with Decca recordings and performed with some of the world's great ensembles... all before his 24th birthday. As with many of his generation he has talent and formidable technique to burn. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has an undeniable sense of musicality.

The Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 2 in g Op. 22, which he performed as soloist with the Kansas City Symphony, Micheal Stern, Music Director conducting, verily defines the terms flashy and showy. Abduraimov milked the flash and show to be sure, but thankfully never fell into the banging and pounding trap. A committed and sensitive pianist, he (with Stern's able guidance of the orchestra) found this  music's charm, wit, elegance and drama often hidden behind the challenging performance demands.

Abduraimov imbued the dramatic solo that opens the work with deep, rich organ-like sonority. Fitting since over the years many critics and writers have compared this passage with a Bach organ prelude. Abduraimov, a native of Uzbekistan, also infused this intense cadenza with a bit of “Russian” soul, linking it the later works of Rachmaninoff. The orchestra rode along superbly in the brisk and forward performance.

Sadly, about 1/3 of the way through the Saint-Saëns on Saturday, November 2nd, Abduraimov suddenly stopped playing. After a few moments of awkward and confused glances between Stern and Abduraimov, Stern announced they would be right back. Returning to the stage, they began the movement from the beginning. The second time around was free of any mishaps and was a most satisfying and brilliant performance. From my perch, I could not hear Abduraimov's obviously heartfelt and sincere apology and explanation. It didn't matter, things happen (although I am racking my memory as to anytime I have witnessed a performance break down by a professional... but it happens for sure) and all was quickly forgiven if not forgotten.

The 2nd movement, all charming dance, rippling piano passages and infectious rhythm, received a clear, ringing performance. Stern and the orchestra saw this movement as a dialog (not a contest) and the resulting interplay between the orchestra and piano was simply a marvel. Abduraimov's brilliant technique served the music well; each phrase was perfectly articulated, making melody instead of mind numbing repetition.

The concluding tarantella was brisk with a subtly dark and demonic streak. The middle section with its sequence of trilled figures in the piano was lithe and breathtaking. The climatic pounding chords were clarion clear and powerful, aided by a precise and sympathetic orchestra.

The concert opened with Schumann's rarely heard Overture, Scherzo and Finale op 52 from 1841. This little symphony sans slow movement (the composer even called it his Second Symphony for a time), pales in comparison with his four numbered symphonies but makes for an interesting change of pace opener. Stern and the orchestra provided as fine and vivid performance as one could ask.

The second half was not lacking for musical drama either. Richard Strauss' early tone poem “Tod und Verklärung” (Death and Transfiguration) led off followed by Tchaikovski's “Overture Fantasy Romeo and Juliet”.

“Tod und Verklarung” began appropriately hushed and atmospheric. The subtle tympani pulsed under the glowing clarinet, harp, violin and oboe solos. Reluctant entrances (especially the very beginning of the work) and a general weakness in string numbers diminished the intensity of the agitated central section. The brass were guilty of a few blatty entrances as well, and the final death stroke could have used some more oomph overall. The all important horns were usually at their best tonight, often soaring as required over the rich textures.

However, the final transfiguration pages were a revelation; dignified and imbued with a cool radiance, achingly, agonizingly rising to the beautifully offered statement of the transfiguration theme. The audience was simply transfixed by the simple grandeur of the closing moments, the prominent harps taking the soul on its journey.

The full program ended with a passionate but never drippy Romeo and Juliet. A well paced, lyrical and dramatic performance, notable for the fine wind work (the wind chorale in the lovers' funeral dirge was

intimate and tender, a highlight of the whole work) and a lush, full of ardent longing but certainly not cliched love theme. The battle music episodes were taught and powerful as well. A most enjoyable and welcome rendering of a work that can be almost too familiar.