In a season that has already delivered impressive moments, the Kansas City Symphony’s reading of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” on Friday may well be the highlight. With the leadership of guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, the musicians had fire in their bellies, playing with concerted aggression that overawed the audience. A subdued crowd left Helzberg Hall, still a bit taken aback by not only the power displayed in the performance but the breathless sustain and decay of the end, indicating Juliet’s death.
It was an evocative program throughout. Prieto, music director of both Louisiana Philharmonic and the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico, brought a demanding energy to the podium. A range of full-bodied gestures projected the works’ vast contrasts, from shrugs to grand, sweeping movements, shuffling steps to emphatically pounding the air with fists. It was impressive to watch, not least of all because of the reaction of the musicians, who dug in with a matching ferocity.
Originally written for ballet, Prokofiev’s score stands independent of theatrical performance with the music easily indicating the story. There was grandeur in the melodies, gravity in the presentation and impeccable playing from the musicians. The strings fiddled with unrelenting vigor during the fight scenes, the winds offered beautiful lines, and the brass, percussion and low strings brought hefty potency, especially the clear, soaring chords from the horns.
But it was the consideration taken with crescendos and releases that stimulated this astounding performance, as when Tybalt’s death was steadily approached, ending in tragic, drastic, full ensemble chordal blasts.
They brought a similar forcefulness to Silvestre Revuelta’s Suite from “Redes,” which opened the concert. Prieto urged the orchestra in a robust rendition with weighty accents, challenging, chaotic rhythms, triumphant passages and measured growth.
Somewhat overshadowed by the bombast of the other two pieces was Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” performed by guitarist Jiyeon Kim in her orchestral concert debut. A graceful and nuanced player, she cradled the guitar during this more peaceful work, harkening the palace gardens of southern Spain. She was somewhat overbalanced by the winds, losing the intricacies of the line, but presented an intimate, captivating performance, especially during the second movement, alternating the wistful melodic line with the oboe.
A little teary-eyed, she dedicated her encore piece, Roland Dyens’ “Tango en skai,” to her mother (who had traveled from Korea for the event), played with a looser, impassioned feel, full of difficult runs and hearty percussive slaps.