Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Philharmonic Performs Shostakovich

Some composers invite you into their worlds. In his Symphony No. 10, Dmitri Shostakovich simply bludgeons you into his — and the audience at Saturday’s Colorado Springs Philharmonic concert loved it.

The program is a sort of coming of age for associate conductor Thomas Wilson. Conducting the vast and complicated score from memory, his interpretation combined crispness and clarity with unrelenting emotional intensity.

The result was a fabulous performance of one of the most gripping and weirdly satisfying of all 20th Century symphonies, a work that rises from impenetrable gloom to a sense of triumph so giddy that a man near me laughed out loud.

And it passes through many stages between, including an indescribably violent scherzo — possibly a musical portrait of Stalin, who had recently died. The many moods are held together by a four-note motif based on Shostakovich’s name.

In its fourth season, the philharmonic is playing better than ever. Among the high points were the finale’s swirling strings and woodwinds, the scherzo’s clipped, percussive brass, and a bevy of soloists, including clarinetist Ray Kireilis, flutist Paul Nagem and oboist Guy Dutra-Silveira.

Perhaps best of all was French Horn player Matthew Scheffelman, who played the third movement’s mysterious five-note theme a dozen times, each with a different expression. (The theme is another musical symbol, based on the name of Shostakovich’s student, Elmira Nazirova.)

The Shostakovich overshadowed Orion Weiss’ excellent interpretation of Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

The 24-year-old pianist played the virtuoso passages with confidence and a lively rhythmic sense, but was at his best in this colorful concerto’s quiet, introspective passages. Here he showed off a floating tone, a long, singing line, and a rhythmic elasticity that kept Wilson and the orchestra on their toes. And the Pikes Peak Center’s new Steinway will have to wait for someone else to make an ugly sound on it; Weiss never pounded.

Weiss isn’t yet completely seasoned on stage — he got unnervingly far ahead of the orchestra near the end of the second movement — but he’s an interesting musical personality, and has developed impressively since appearing here six years ago.

As an encore for the enthusiastic crowd, Weiss played Brahms’ famous A-flat Waltz.

The concert began with Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” — about the farthest thing possible from the traditional rousing curtain-raiser. It set the tone for the evening — not expressively, but in the smooth, clear sound the orchestra produced for Wilson.

Though this languorous performance hardly rose above a mezzo-forte, it never flagged in interest, weaving a sweetly magical spell — at times almost too sweet, but that’s early Debussy for you. Nagem played the famous opening theme with a liquid gracefulness.

The program was dedicated to the memory of percussionist Dean Volkman, who passed away last spring, eight days after playing with the philharmonic in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

The program will be repeated today at 2:30 at the Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave. Call 520-7469 for tickets.


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