Two eras unite at Stamford Symphony

18. Nov. 2006 – VH1's popular show "I Love the 80s" will probably never get around to a series about contemporary classical music. But if it did, two works that would be featured were central in the concert presented by the Stamford Symphony Orchestra on Nov. 11.


It was a piece written in 1980, "Threnody to Toki," by Takashi Yoshimatsu, that opened the concert. Toki is an endangered bird native to Japan (the Japanese Crested Ibis). An atmosphere for this work was created by a large piece of artwork designed by Andrew Knapp suspended behind the orchestra, and in part from some research on Toki shared by violist Rebecca Osborn. She indicated that not only is it a large bird - "29 inches head to tail" - but that its characteristic bright colors are seen only when it is flying.


The music was given a graceful performance. It emerged from silence punctuated by kaleidoscopic gestures. Pianist Emily Wong contributed vibrant piano from the back of the orchestra. She blended effectively and shaped quiet playing with the strongest of control. In itself, this is something of a lost art among pianists.


Too much attention was focused on "effects" both in the "thoughts before the downbeat" and in the thoughts from the podium. This "Threnody" is an accessible piece, and interactions between line and atmosphere, and strings and piano, are of more interest than extended techniques.


Historical performance guru Mark Kroll joined the orchestra as harpsichord soloist in Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 3 in D Major (BWV 1054). Much of the detail in the opening movement was covered by the 7,6,4,4,2 string ensemble, but Kroll came through clearly afterward, and performed the dazzling figurations of the third movement with ease.


Kroll was soloist in the second blockbuster from 1980, the "Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings" by G—recki. This piece can also be performed on piano, but played on harpsichord, the strings enter a stronger partnership; on piano the sound worlds clash. Kroll developed a powerful energy, and sent the Stamford audience into intermission humming the ostinato from the second movement, and at least one person playing "air-harpsichord." The G—recki concerto went over big time.


After intermission, we heard selections from Suites 1 and 2 of "Water Music" by Handel, a piece that lives or dies based on the double reeds and brass. Diane Lesser set the tone with a wonderful double reed solo in the second movement adagio. And the brass: hornists Jeffrey Lang and Louise Crowley and trumpeters John Dent and Terry Szor were perfection.


To close the evening, we were treated to some extra Handel as an encore: the famous Largo from Xerxes.


Hearing music written within our lifetimes alternate with baroque music is to hear a juxtaposition of tonalities and compositional thinking that is more sympathetic than one might expect. The aggressive concerto figuration in the last movement of Bach was also spoken by G—recki, and as the German Handel learned English, perhaps if could have heard Yoshimatsu, he would have started polishing his Japanese.

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