The Kansas City Symphony returned to the stage of Helzberg Hall on Friday night, demonstrating that great orchestral music is not simply relegated to late 19th- and 20th-century composers like Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Brahms.
Guest conductor Bernard Labadie, music director of the outstanding Canadian chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy, served up an appetizing program of classical and early romantic works. Often using reduced string sections, the orchestra played with sleek elegance.
The program opened with Sinfonia in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 6, a work composed in 1770 by Johann Christian Bach, one of the sons of Johann Sebastian, also known as the “London Bach.”
The work opened with finely nuanced playing and beautifully stylized melodic lines. In particular, Labadie and the players excelled in demonstrating contrasting articulation from one phrase or section to the next.
The second movement featured nicely balanced and blended playing, with slick, elegant lines and beautifully shaped phrases. My only regret was the horn-playing in the final movement: they were occasionally too loud.
Brazilian-born pianist Arnaldo Cohen joined the orchestra for Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor. The work was one of the composer’s best-known pieces during his lifetime, and Friday’s performance helped explain why.
A brief but turbulent orchestral opening was followed by Cohen’s entrance, an equally stormy passage that informed the audience it was in for a wild ride.
Cohen’s playing was clear, warm and expertly pedaled, especially in the slower second theme. The second movement began without a break. The soloist played with unerring sensitivity throughout the movement, occasionally stretching phrases. Labadie and the orchestra were excellent partners, supporting and stretching together.
The finale featured a brassy opening followed by a sparkling pianistic frenzy from Cohen. Occasional synchronization issues arose in this movement and from time to time the conductor’s breathing was distracting, particularly before significant cues. Nevertheless it was a fine reading of a fine work.
Josef Martin Kraus is sometimes called the “Swedish Mozart.” Though born in Germany, he achieved his greatest fame while in the employ of Sweden’s King Gustav III. He was born the same year as Mozart and died a year later.
Martin’s Symphony in F Major received a vibrant reading from the performers, but once again synchronization problems arose from time to time, especially between first and second violins.
The evening concluded with Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 in D Major, nicknamed the “Clock” Symphony. Written for the composer’s second English tour in 1794, the work derives its name from the clocklike accompaniment in the slow second movement.
The orchestra delivered a spirited, exciting reading, infused with energy. Highlights included the exquisitely crafted first violin theme in the second movement, the rollicking Minuet and Trio, and the impassioned finale.