Review: Kansas City Symphony w/ Robert Spano

I reviewed the Kansas City Symphony’s first concert of 2016 for The Kansas City Star.

When the review is posted online, I’ll link to it here.

Update May 2016: The review never appeared online or in print, so I’m posting it here. I personally enjoyed this performance very much, and was disappointed that the review fell through the cracks. -LH

KCSTAR REVIEW: With solo cellist Timotheos Petrin, orchestra explores contrast in British program.

The Kansas City Symphony started strong in the new year with guest conductor Robert Spano. Their concert in Helzberg Hall on Friday celebrated British composers. It was a brash and keen performance, but, more tellingly, explored how capable this ensemble is of achieving effervescent pianissimos.

Oliver Knussen’s “The Way to Castle Yonder” is an arrangement of themes and consolidation of story from his fantasy-opera “Higglety, Pigglety Pop!” based on the book by Maurice Sendak (written as a requiem for his beloved dog, Jennie).

The frenetic piece was an ambitious aperitif to the meaty works to follow. It was paced in a pulsing, dream-like manner, with the mysterious, melancholy opening to a clippity clop rhythm, stimulating, puzzling snatches of melody, and the final subtle hit indicated with a flick, the metallic tones allowed to ring until dissipated entirely.

Cellist Timotheos Petrin gave an impassioned, joyful performance of Edward Elgar’s Concerto in e minor. Lush, with full vibrato, his tone range out in the hall. Spano concisely kept the orchestra sympathetically engaged to the soloist.

This concerto was written in the aftermath of the Great War. It has yearning in it, from the first strokes, and sorrow. But there is also a twinkle of humor, as when the winds gave a lighthearted descending line in response to the cello, and, at times, a nearly boisterous quality.

The orchestra, especially the low voices, responded well to Petrin and Spano, with organic growth in the dynamic from soloist to ensemble. Petrin’s strummed pizzicato set off a wonderful passage during the first movement, and his contrast and control from a barely discernable pianissimo to vibrant double stops was delightful.

In Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “A London Symphony,” Spano was assertive and expressive, guiding the many dramatic swells. Soloists were fantastic, especially principal violist Christine Grossman, whose final note Spano let linger with a smile.

The work alludes to the energy and soundscape of pre war-London: the bells of Westminster, popular song and the indication of bustling traffic. The gusto of a shanty-esque melody made it easy to recall that the Thames flows through the heart the city and out to sea.

It was exciting, with blaring brass, sprightly melodies, and the way they laid into fortes, making the peak seem to glisten with tremolo.

But it was the quiet that captivated, and Spano allowed those final cello tones to fade to an imperceptibility that nevertheless commanded attention.

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