Excitement fueled the Kansas City Symphony’s Classical Series finale concert. Friday’s performance in Helzberg Hall, conducted by Michel Stern, demonstrated the power and flexibility of the ensemble with three exuberant, charismatic works.
Coincidently, the composers were each in their thirties when they wrote these pieces, which contributed to their reputations as world class composers.
“Phenomenon,” by Narong Prangcharoen, conveyed the mysterious thrill of the Nagas Fireballs, inexplicable red lights which rise from the Mekong River. An abrupt beginning of glowering brass and rattled bows released into an interlacing texture of sliding harmonics, bowed metal and muted brass, the wind timbres mixing and refracting. The piece was appealing, with unexpected clamoring from brass and gong, the fortissimo climax spiraling, like sparks, into nothingness.
Prangcharoen, of Thailand, graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance with a doctorate in music in 2010 and was based in Kansas City for many years, so to some extent this was a coming home concert, with many friends in the audience and earning new admirers, too, no doubt, with this captivating work.
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The mix of mystery and bombast continued with Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, performed with soloist Philippe Quint. Quint’s warmth of tone centered the work, as did his control of the shifting attitudes, darkening and strengthening during gut-tightening ascents, yet capable of the most fragile pianissimo. This control and capability were keenly shown in the near constant movement of the final movement (though an awkward opening from the orchestra was concerning). Oboist Kristina Fulton’s solo in the Andante movement was sublime.
But Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 was the final say for the season, and what a lush, metamorphic say it was. Ever conscious of the billowing swells and the romantic sweep of the thematic material, the excitement converged, redirected and swelled again. Horns added subtext to violin lines, then led a heroic brass, while the glockenspiel and flute gilded the orchestration. Pointed, nimble rhythms defined the quicksilver changes in the second movement, concluded with a somber brass chorale and subtle tag.
In the third movement, the reoccurring motive glimmered through the orchestra like a pleasant but vague memory that becomes more dear with every recollection. Principal clarinet Raymond Santos’ solo was impassioned without becoming overwrought.
The final movement set off like a flare flash, in an athletic reading from the ensemble. The sustained tension burst into jubilant arrays of color (despite some timing issues), the excitement collapsing, dissipating again and again into the luxuriant line. This exhilarated delivery allowed some secondary lines too much prominence, but maintained consistent forward motion to the whirlwind cadence and the audience’s enthused standing ovation.
The end of the season is a chance for reflection, to compare the challenges and achievements of the past months. An active arts organization, solvent, with stable leadership and civic support, is a privilege and a value to the community. The Kansas City Symphony, now in its thirties, too, seems ready to take its technical capabilities and the quality of musician it contains, and mark a new stage of artistic growth and ensemble cohesion.
Additional performances 8 p.m. June 17 and 2 p.m. June 18. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $28-$80. 816-471-0400 or www.kcsymphony.org.