The Kansas City Symphony and violinist Anne Akiko Meyers gave a loving, posthumous world premiere performance of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s final composition, “Fantasia.” The ensemble, conducted by music director Michael Stern, presented the work along with the jubilant Symphony No. 2 of his fellow Finn and national hero, Jean Sibelius.
The symphony also presented choice pieces from Carl Nielsen and Maurice Ravel, keen and eager during the concert Friday in Helzberg Hall.
The Overture for Carl Nielsen’s “Maskarade,” though it started with a tempo slightly too brisk to sustain, settled comfortably into the vibrant melody, a cheerful opening work of boisterous voices.
Meyers joined the ensemble for a pairing of violin showpieces.
Rautavaara’s “Fantasia” was commissioned by the soloist. The composer died July 2016, and the work (whether he meant it to or not), is a timeless final statement by a brilliant mind, with its angular motion and long arc of the aching solo line. The extended, steady voice of Meyers’ violin, with a burgundy tone and soulful expression, floated over the sighing, undulating texture of the orchestra. The yearning inherent in the ascending line turned more agitated at the midpoint, and though the orchestra restored the meditative tone for a while, the work’s underlying imperative was revealed in Meyers’ last ascending statement. The orchestra dropped away at the end, in a final ringing flourish.
She followed this stoic display with Ravel’s flashy “Tzigane,” a moody, infectious piece using melodies and playing styles of the fiddling Roma who traveled Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Her tone was different, harsher, darker, and her stance more crouched during the cadenza-like first half. The entrance of the harp introduced the orchestra, though Meyers remained distinct and forward, with stylistic slides, double stops and impressive pizzicati in a passionate, rousing performance.
In the Sibelius, the ensemble performed as though they had conquered a challenging ocean voyage, with moments of jubilance and brilliance, rolling, cresting passages, thundering statements and vertiginous runs in a cycle of chaos and calm.
Melodies full of frolic defined the allegretto, the motif expanded by sweeping gestural writing with brash declarations in the brass. The basses gave excellent shape to their foundational pizzicato line in the second movement. The bassoons, on a somber theme, were interjected by the horns’ call, the interval setting up the movement’s increasing urgency. Sections tossed phrases around the orchestra, which, despite moments of serene relief, resurged into a stunning close and resonant cut off, with suspended breathe.
This push of excitement shaped the final two movements, tempered by the gentler motives in winds, beguiling like the fall of happy tears. Prolonged crescendos, though sometimes plateauing dynamically, dropped back and ascended again, with the low voices’ two-note pulse and the violins’ seductive melody. Rippling runs created a shimmering horizon from which emerged this dawning, grand showing.