The Kansas City Symphony and Chorus showcased a capacity for delicacy and strength in their concert Friday night.
The Symphony has programmed works written during or before World War I, and Friday’s program featured a quartet of works from Romantic-era German composers.
The audience in Helzberg Hall was somewhat depleted because of game three of the World Series. The orchestra took it with good grace, though. Music director Michael Stern greeted the crowd with a finely humored, well-crafted spiel in honor of the home team (including an attributed Richard Wagner quotation: “Besiege die Riesen” — Defeat the Giants!), as introduction to a last-minute program addition, a boisterous rendition of Albert von Tilzer’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
The concert continued with the overture to Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” the horn section leading in a ferocious salvo. The strings created turbulent lines, as though crashing into the brass choral. There was a visceral intensity to the performance, the intensity tempered by sweet nuggets from the winds.
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The Kansas City Symphony Chorus joined the orchestra for Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Psalm 23.” The music was harmonically extensive, emphasizing the emotional qualities and natural allusions in the text. The chorus, prepared by Charles Bruffy, entered with a tenderness and clarity that belied its mass, this energy soon evident at the climax.
A gentle introduction with oboe and clarinet added an organic, twining quality to the lines. Though the music shifted darker with tortured harmonies, as each moment peaked, Stern maintained excellent control of the suspended breath, with nice communication across the ensemble.
These same qualities were also evident for Johannes Brahms’ “Schicksalslied.” The orchestra took advantage of the velvety melodies, voices from horn, cello and flute emerging from the texture, then folding back in. Staccato phrases in the chorus invigorated the crescendo.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, the “Scottish,” was jubilant. The gorgeous, enveloping viola and wind theme made way for the violins’ reminiscent melody, evoking visions of filtered sunlight. Broad gestural phrases transitioned rapidly into gale-tossed string lines.
The momentum continued in the second movement, set up with a splendid solo in the clarinet. After a majestic third movement came a vigorous final movement of rugged down-bows and earnest leaps, the horns and strings leading the intensity with gusto.