The Spokane Symphony with pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine

Concert champions youth and skill

16. Mar. 2008 – The Spokane Symphony's concert Saturday at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox had a spring in its step. The orchestra, joined at the end of the program by the Symphony Chorale, featured three works written by composers then in their 20s and 30s under the baton of a young conductor with an even younger piano soloist. It was a exhilarating display of youth, imagination and skill.


Conductor Eckart Preu took a chance opening the weekend's concerts with a work by Anton von Webern, a composer noted for his highly condensed, acerbically dissonant style. What the audience heard in Webern's 1904 symphonic poem “Im Sommerwind” was something wholly different. It was written when the composer was only 20, on vacation in southern Austria, and absorbing like a blotter the late romanticism of the two Richards - Wagner and Strauss - along other “new” composers of his day such as Debussy.


Preu and the orchestra enveloped the hall with an opulent sonority cushioning a 16-minute parade of short solos and duets. There were lovely solos from clarinetist Chip Phillips, a fine duet passage between concertmaster Mateusz Wolski and principal second violinist Jason Bell, and a nicely transparent passage for brass. “Im Sommerwind” showed its creator's hasty eagerness to spill out his feelings in breathless outbursts, but the work showed, too, what a romantic Webern was at 20.


Alexander Scriabin was only a few years older when he wrote his Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor in 1897. Soloist Alexandre Moutouzkine's boyish appearance and modest demeanor belied a musical maturity and technical command that made his playing phenomenal. Moutouzkine had a firm grip on Scriabin's improvisatory writing with its cascades of scales and arpeggios and rhythms in the solo part that seemed to swim against the current of the orchestra accompaniment. Preu provided a firm but flexible partnership between orchestra and soloist. As in the Webern work, Phillips' clarinet solos featured prominently.


The most impressive quality in Moutouzkine's playing, for me at least, was the beauty of tone he extracts from this presumed “percussion instrument” - never once, in even the loudest passages, was there an ugly moment. In addition to the preemptory applause between the first and second movement, Saturday's audience gave the soloist an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end. Moustouskine returned the favor with a brilliantly played encore, the soloist's own harmonically quirky reworking of Saint-Saens' “The Swan.” (My thanks to the symphony's Don Nelson for this information.)


Following intermission, Preu returned with the orchestra and the Symphony Chorale to perform the two suites from Maurice Ravel's ballet, “Daphnis et Chloe.” Audiences rarely get a chance to hear these two suites with Ravel's wordless choral parts; more often they are played with orchestral instruments substituting the vocal lines. Preu showed that Ravel was right in using voices. The effect is stunning.


The orchestral parts themselves are wonders, providing a concerto-like playground for the wind instruments. These were excellently played in the Saturday performance I heard. In an effective dramatic gesture, the spooky chorale Interlude in Suite No. 1 was performed on a completely darkened stage with ominous interjections from trumpet and horn off-stage. Fully as impressive was the very large percussion battery in the final dances of both suites.


The concert was a splendid mix of liveliness, elegance and imagination.

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