The Kansas City Symphony not only presented impressive achievements in performance this season, but also, in their finale concert Friday in Helzberg Hall, indicated great promise for things to come.
The ensemble completed its season in triumphal form with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, joined by the Kansas City Symphony Chorus.
Before conducting the symphony on the second portion of the program, music director Michael Stern remarked on the unforeseen and unfortunate appropriateness of the program as solace with its message of human aspiration and brotherly love, and described the “Ode to Joy” as an “anthem for all humanity.”
He dedicated the performance to those suffering in the wake of the violent attack in Orlando, Fla.
Given its massive form, intricate nature and expanded forces, the symphony nevertheless defies hyperbole. Written when Beethoven was nearly completely deaf, it is a testament to his genius and tenacity, combating the human struggle in rejoicing strains.
Soloists Celena Shafer (soprano), Jennifer Johnson Cano (mezzo-soprano), Robert Watson (tenor) and Dashon Burton (bass-baritone) performed with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus, prepared in good form by Charles Bruffy. Burton set a tone of emphatic jubilance, his initial “Freude” exclamation succinctly matched by the chorus.
The orchestra explored the density of the work, giving the inner voices and secondary lines prominent showing.
Yet they retained a quality of lightness, returning to it with the sighing two-note figure of return and exchange, punctuated by cannon-shot timpani interjections and dramatic swells. Stern, sometimes singing, always passionate, led well-shaped phrases with heightened enthusiasm.
The program balanced this extensive work with Beethoven’s “Meersstille und glückliche Fahrt,” or “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 2, “To October,” both for chorus and orchestra, in the first portion.
The Beethoven was a gentle, fair opener of delicate pizzicato and tart, staccato syllables, its swirling transition leading into a fun and forceful section.
Shostakovich’s work, written when the young composer was enamored with Lenin and Soviet philosophy, commemorates the October Revolution of 1917 and celebrates victory and comradeship.
The ensemble impressively unleashed the meticulously constructed chaos of the one-movement work from quiet, murky ascending lines with subliminal tensions. The complex layering of solo voices evolved to include the mingling of all voices in an exuberant, discordant clamor.
Ending with Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the concert gave proof of the musicians’ fortitude and artistry, the orchestra’s sustainability of energy and concept and its value as a cultural cornerstone.