The Kansas City Symphony welcomed back pianist Behzod Abduraimov to the stage of Helzberg Hall on Friday for a performance of luscious beauty and furious technique. They played Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a piece requiring both incredible ability and enormous passion, coupled with Aaron Copland’s Symphony no. 3, formidable and challenging in its own right.
Music director Michael Stern conducted, opening the concert with Anatoli Liadov’s lovely impressionist “The Enchanted Lake,” a short work of beguiling magic, the strings, winds, harp and celeste conjuring mist and sunlight, bird song and gently lapping waves.
It’s heartwarming and incredible to consider that the world-class talent of Uzbekistan-born Abduraimov was honed right up the road at Park University. The audience was delighted to hear him back home, as it were. The concerto is staggeringly difficult, as Rachmaninoff, a noted virtuoso, wrote it for himself, as well as disarmingly emotive, his triumph over crippling writer’s block.
Abduraimov brought the full power of his youth and strength to the performance. The energy he directed into the keyboard during the thundering chords and rolling arpeggios lifted him from his seat time and again, yet he directed as much attention and focus to the single line melody of the second movement and brought nuanced control to transitions.
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The orchestra embraced the expansiveness of the work, with its cavernous crescendos and heart-on-sleeve dramatics, though not always keeping up during tempo fluctuations.
This performance also revealed the consistent problem of balance, with a ferocious soloist rendered essentially inaudible against the full ensemble. Whether this is symptomatic of the listening environment on stage or some other issue, it must addressed.
For his encore Abduraimov played Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella,” displaying again his muscularity and finesse.
Copland’s Symphony No. 3 combined evocative timbres and familiar thematic material for a work unmistakably his own, now synonymous with an American sound. The lopsided syncopations, hocketed rhythms and meter changes challenged the orchestra, while multiple times they reached their maximum fortissimo before a phrase’s climax. It was, however, a respectable performance, not lacking in effort and nuance, especially in terms of timbral balance within the intricate, multifaceted layers.
Notably, the piece incorporates Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” first, gently, beautifully, in winds and then with majestic authority from brass and percussion. This final movement was a celebration of vitality, the culmination of elements dynamic, thematic and enthusiastic.