Conservative pieces still delight

13. Feb. 2012 –

Spokane Symphony music director Eckart Preu, in his pre-concert talk, told the audience that this weekend’s concert would be “challenging and fun.” He was absolutely correct.

The symphony’s “Brilliance and Virtuosity” concert Saturday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox featured three works by composers born in the 1880s: Three Jewish Poems by Ernest Bloch; Violin Concerto in D Major by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; Suite from the ballet Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky.

Bloch’s work evokes his Hebrew heritage without directly quoting known melodies. The work is dedicated to the memory of his father.

That these three movements are conservative compared with other works composed at the same time (1913) is no reason to dismiss the emotions this music still evokes for the listener.

The orchestral choirs all had moments of weaving a sonorous tapestry that could be visualized and heard. The final stark chord (with no third) perhaps was Bloch’s way of telling his father how much he was missed.

Concert Master Mateusz Wolski was guest artist for the ever popular Korngold Concerto.

His consummate technique on the violin and intense feeling for this work was apparent from the opening passage. Wolski’s cadenza in the first movement was artistry of the first magnitude.

There were moments in all three movements that the orchestra should have turned down the volume and dominated the soloist. It should have been a friendly dialogue among friends, not a contest of wills.

The finale of the evening was “Petrushka,” composed by Stravinsky at age 29.

The four main sections of this suite follow the scenario of the original full-length ballet.

The brief summary of the story Preu gave before the concert was the wittiest and most elegant description of “Petrushka” I have ever come across.

Just like the “very mean, annoying puppet Petrushka,” Preu thumbed his nose at convention (proper symphony etiquette?) and told it like it was.

This masterpiece of 20th century music was performed masterfully by the orchestra in nearly all respects. I was missing more of a percussive piano-like sound in the Russian Dance. Stravinsky composed at the piano. In fact, this ballet started out in his mind as a concert piece for piano and orchestra. This Dans Russe was too gently articulated, too nice, too safe.

The flute solo representing The Magician’s conjuring to turn the three puppet characters into live performers was bland and unmagical; embrace the 14 pauses in the score.

To divide the scenes, Stravinsky chose a single drum to let people know something was going to change. This, too, was far too muffled and not crisp during this performance.

The solo piano performance of Kendall Feeney deserves special mention and high praise.

Her interpretation was clearly based on her intimate knowledge of the score and many years of her successful experience with new music, particularly the chamber music series Zephyr.

“Petrushka” is an extremely demanding work for conductor, orchestra and audience.

Hopefully we will not have to wait another 20 years for a return performance. Perhaps it could be paired with Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Audiences then could hear, compare and understand the numerous melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and orchestral elements common to both.


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