Review: Louisville Orchestra’s Ravel and Shostakovich, and Mozart with Chu-Fang Huang

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All good art has a superficial layer that is adequate for enjoyment. What appears beneath the surface, however, is detail, revelation and honesty. The Louisville Orchestra’s first concert in 2015, conducted by Music Director Emeritus Jorge Mester, featured Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 — each capable of revealing a hidden truth.

Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite was originally written as a set of piano pieces for two children: Mimi and Jean Godebski. That the music was written for children (and their small hands) belies the inventiveness and genius of this work, especially in its most performed version for orchestra. Anything Ravel touches with his orchestration turns to gold: Mussorgky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Debussy’s Sarabande and Danse, his own Tombeau de Couperin and this suite.

To only listen to this as music about fairy tales is missing the point that Ravel’s score is perfect. It is delicate and balanced, and the orchestra obliged the composer’s vision with a colorful and nuanced performance. Maestro Mester provided minimal coaxing, instead letting the orchestra be an ensemble. Of note was principal clarinetist Andrea Levine’s tender and velvety solo in the fourth movement. And nitpicking, a few exposed violin passages, both in Ravel and Shostakovich, lacked cohesion and focus.

Ms. Huang’s debut in Louisville also means her debut with this Mozart Piano Concerto No. 18, but the newness of the work to her was mostly unnoticeable. Overall it was a safe and comfortable performance, but dismissing Mozart’s eighteenth concerto as enjoyable, like Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, misses the point. Its depth lies in the details beneath the surface.

In the first and last movements we saw Ms. Huang the consummate technician, showing brilliant skill and elegance with her craft. But dazzling as it was, the middle movement showed us her artistry and depth. Mozart was an opera composer and his dramatic tendencies are often found in his concertos. The orchestra’s introduction sets up the piano’s “aria” and Ms. Huang gave her Steinway the most cantabile treatment.

After intermission, Jorge Mester and the Louisville Orchestra concluded with the dark and perplexing Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich — one that Leonard Bernstein called “a body without a head.” Formally, yes, there isn’t an allegro (fast) first movement. But it also may mean that the first movement (the torso in this metaphor) is all heart. For an unbroken twenty minutes, Shostakovich is brutally honest. Yes, this is a sorrowful time and, yes, there is little hope. the orchestra stayed attentive and energized through this desolation, giving us a clear picture of Shostakovich’s psyche. The closing movements (loud and fast) were ferocious, but in light of this context — beneath the surface — they are less about hope or triumph, and more about irony.

The Louisville Orchestra’s first concert in 2015 featured Music Director Emeritus Jorge Mester with pianist Chu-Fang Huang, making her Louisville debut. The second performance is Friday, January 16th at 8pm in Whitney Hall. Classical 90.5’s Alan Brandt will be joined by Jorge Mester for the pre-concert talk starting at 7pm.

Featured Album and Giveaway: The Art of Bach

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Since meeting in 2000 at the Juilliard School, Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe have carved a unique path as a piano duo. They’ve performed on MTV’s Total Request Live and APM’s Performance Today, and their self-produced videos have received over a million views (the Libertango video has almost reached the 1.5 million mark).

Anderson & Roe’s fourth album features Johann Sebastian Bach’s seminal works, from a Brandenburg Concerto to portions of the St. Matthew Passion, arranged for two pianos and piano four-hands. Hear The Art of Bach this week on Classical 90.5 and enter for a chance to win a copy!

Britten and Bax

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Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia was mostly written during the composer’s trip home to the UK after visiting the United States. This work had a long gestation as Britten had problems finding a suitable text. W H Auden was eventually asked and produced the poem in 1940. Britten’s setting was immediately recognised as a major addition to the choral repertory and has since become one of his most enduringly popular choral works.

The poem’s division into three ‘movements’ gives Britten his musical structure, and the provision of a refrain (‘Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire…’) gives a point of reference marking the end of each section, and of the work. The three ‘movements’ are completely different from each other. The work is extremely demanding of its performers.

Arnold Bax (photo) wrote his Symphony No. 7 in 1938 and 1939. he was originally going to dedicate the piece to conductor Basil Cameron but received a commission for the 1939 World Fair in New York and decided to use the symphony for this purpose. It was dedicated to “The People of America.”

We’ll hear both works on An English Pastorale, Sunday at 9 am.

Metropolitan Opera: Aida

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Grand opera at its grandest: the splendors of ancient Egypt return to the stage of the Met. Verdi’s mythic love triangle features Liudmyla Monastyrska, Tamara Wilson, and Oksana Dyka sharing the title role, with Olga Borodina and Violeta Urmana as Amneris and Marcello Giordani and Marco Berti singing Radamès. Marco Armiliato and Plácido Domingo share conducting duties. Saturday at 1pm on Classical 90.5.

Event: The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

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Be a part of a live taping of the radio drama “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” by George Bernard Shaw. Kentucky Shakespeare and Classical 90.5 present this live recording of Shaw’s one-act, imaginary adventure between William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. The recording will be released as a podcast later this year. Also, enjoy pre-show entertainment from Concentus String Quartet. The production is free, but reservations are required.

Hosted by Daniel Gilliam

Cast:
William Shakespeare: Gregory Maupin
Beefeater: Matt Wallace
Queen Elizabeth: Abigail Maupin
Dark Lady: Megan Massie
Foley Artist/Sound: Kyle Ware