Just as the Romantic poets idealized the heroism of the individual, Kansas City Symphony made good use of the orchestra members’ soloistic abilities during the “Symphonic Poetry” concert in Helzberg Hall on Friday night, featuring pianist Alon Goldstein.
Conducted by music director Michael Stern, the performance began with the suspended pauses of Liszt’s “Les préludes,” its inspiration based literally, from Alphonse de Lamartine’s poem. The work was triumphant, the increasingly pressurized melodies flowing from warm, darkly voiced strings, brilliant brass playing and spritely winds. Yet the full grandeur seemed stymied, held back.
This may have been because they were all focused on performing Kansas-born Steven Stucky’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning Second Concerto for Orchestra.
Moody and aggressive, the work built tension — note by note, voice by voice — continuously sustaining, denying and transferring before being reset by a percussive slap. The work lacked a thematic stamp, but motivic elements ricocheted amongst the ensemble with clamoring energy that seemed to ascend almost unceasingly.
Every principal player, as well as others, had solo opportunities, enabling the orchestra to show off these incredible individual players. The percussion section, augmented for this piece, displayed masterful technique on incessantly accented mallet parts and propulsive drum rolls.
Stucky’s inventive timbre combinations resounded in the hall, the colorations almost combative and strident at times. Pointedly built cluster chords, especially in the brass, were impeccably tuned to create crunchy overtones, along with searing string harmonics and a fluttering, atmospheric transitional texture in the winds.
Goldstein was the symphony’s guest soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2. While the orchestra consistently overwhelmed the middle range of the piano, the work had an emotionally laden vitality. Goldstein offered dramatic expression and forthright technique, with nicely distinguished voicing and engagement with the ensemble.
After the affirmative initial thematic statements, the cadenzas of the first movement had an air of spontaneity about them, part playful, part delicate, but ultimately forceful, with robust support from the orchestra.
The second movement featured Goldstein with concertmaster Noah Geller and principal cellist Mark Gibbs in a chamber-like trio of receptive accord, their voices twined in ever more elaborate lines, vibrato becoming more succulent, somehow more Russian, with each statement. The furious finale movement utilized a dance-like melody; the speedy finish filled with pulsing ostinati and virtuosic flourishes.
Goldstein’s encore of Alberto Ginastera’s “Danza del gaucho matrero” was an exuberant finish of churning rhythms and full keyboard glissandi.