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Review | ‘Switch-hitter’ Kahane leads symphony in concert of lyric beauty

The Kansas City Symphony returned to the Kauffman Center Friday night, led by musical “switch-hitter” Jeffrey Kahane, who served in the double role of piano soloist and conductor. The program featured works known for their great lyric beauty.

The evening opened with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503. In the expansive opening section the ensemble achieved a warm, elegant sound and effective musical contrast between the brassy, exciting opening and the gentle string passage that followed.

As lovely as the opening movement was, at times it sounded as if it needed more rehearsal. Balance was occasionally an issue — particularly at the piano’s first entrance, when the solo instrument was too soft. Wind entrances were not always together, and the piano lacked clarity, especially at the most rapid passages.

Things improved considerably in the second and third movements. The winds played beautifully in the slow central movement. String tone was lovely and well blended, and articulations were clear.

Kahane also played wonderfully—what he lacked in nuanced phrasing, he supplied with impressive precision and a bright attractive tone.

Sergei Rachmaninoff certainly has his critics among music historians, yet his soaring melodies and consonant harmonies are audience favorites. Kahane and company showed why in the composer’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.

From the opening movement the ensemble infused the work with romantic fervor. Kahane called for expressive phrasing and striking dynamic shifts. While the music in the first movement was impressive on the whole, there were far too many problems with details: imprecision on rapid string passages, faulty intonation and synchronization issues.

Kahane was successful and capturing the lush melodies of the second and especially the third movements. He utilized a great deal of dynamic contrast, and stretched phrases by delaying the downbeat.

The exciting finale brought audience members to their feet. Kahane and company produced big, brassy blocks of sound and broad sweeping melodies filled with passion and energy. Several ensemble members performed stirring solo passages — to my ear the most impressive were violinist Sunho Kim and flutist Michael Gordon.

The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

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