Brothers Preu bring depth to concert
09. Feb. 2007 – Friday's concert of the Spokane Symphony was a tour de force of fine piano playing, excellent conducting and brilliant orchestral writing and orchestral playing.
The program opened with a surprise appearance of music director Eckart Preu's older brother, Hans-Peter Preu, conducting his own "Children of the Sun." The short work was written for this concert and was an appealing evocation of the scores of movie Westerns of the 1940s and '50s. The elder Preu proved a skillful conductor as well as a composer of ear-friendly music.
Eckart Preu returned to the podium to conduct the rest of the concert, first joined by the piano duo of Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg for two masterworks for two pianos and orchestra by Mozart and Francis Poulenc.
The playing was formidably precise, but audiences can expect that from professional players. What was unexpected was the entirely natural, flexible manner in which these young players responded to one another and to the orchestra. One just does not encounter Mozart playing like this, nowadays. It was like a throwback to the days of Edwin Fischer or Clara Haskill, when pianists were not ashamed to take a bit of extra time to emphasize a dramatic point or press ahead slightly to turn up the excitement level. Silver and Garburg never exaggerated these gestures, just used them to the fullest.
In another twist, the cadenzas they played for the Mozart concerto were by Bela Bartok, cadenzas probably not performed since Bartok and his wife, Ditta, played this concerto in the 1930s. The cadenzas are unpublished and a part of the Rosaleen Moldenhauer Memorial collection at the Library of Congress. The style is not at all in the dissonant Hungarian manner we associate with Bartok, but a fusion of classicism with a romantic brilliance and harmonic complexity.
The Poulenc concerto in D minor was simply a delight. There were all the Parisian ingredients: the jaunty tunes of the music hall, the dusky melancholy of Edith Piaf, the exotic sounds of Indonesian percussion - even a few Mozart quotations dressed with a piquant French sauce. All played with vivid spontaneity.
The monumental work after intermission was Reinhold Gliere's Symphony No. 3 ("Ilya Murometz") completed in 1911. Nearly 80 minutes long in the original, Eckart Preu based this performance on the version the composer agreed upon with conductor Leopold Stokowski, which reduced the performance time by half.
Still, the work is a whopper, demanding an enormous orchestra with quadruple winds, two harps, and a massive battery of percussion.
The work is graphically descriptive of a 10th-century Russian knight who became a larger-than-life, legendary figure. Gliere writes what Preu called in his pre-concert talk, "movie music for a missing movie." Each of the work's four movements was effectively described in narration by Pete Jensen of KXLY-FM.
Preu and the orchestra painted each episode in Murometz's career in brilliant orchestral colors from the massive quality of the giant Svyatogor in his long melody on contrabassoon to the revenge of heaven on Murometz's arrogance by the triumphant Russian Orthodox chant in the finale.
The work was long, but a splendid climax to an electrifying evening.