Concertgoers who spent a gorgeous May evening inside Helzberg Hall on Friday were rewarded with the Kansas City Symphony’s fantastic performance of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “The Inextinguishable.”
The first portion of the program was convincing, with laudable performances of Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, but the Nielsen attained an entirely different plane.
Artistic director Michael Stern conducted Strauss’ tone poem from memory, well within his wheelhouse. With dramatic surges and frenzied ensemble passages, the vividly orchestrated work recounted the escapades of the legendary figure. Interludes of solo voices from violin, oboe and clarinet offered dulcet melodies imbued with longing.
The horn section, which consistently performs with excellence, brought forth resounding climatic moments, huge, ripping fortissimos that resolved into impeccable decrescendos.
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It was an affecting rendition, especially the build up and release at the caesura, though the last of the final three chords was unfortunately imprecise.
Taiwanese-American pianist Steven Lin, a lithe and expressive performer, played the Mozart concerto in two characters: one displayed a lovely ease and fluency in bringing out the elegance of the line and charm of the work, and the other was a ferocious machine churning out complicated keyboard extravagancies. His ability was formidable, and he pushed the boundaries of tempo during these virtuosic episodes.
The orchestra, though it balanced well, did not consistently lock in to his momentum, giving the work a disconnected impression. The audience’s standing ovation was followed by an encore: Frederic Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, filled with cascading runs.
Nielsen’s symphony, written in 1916 during the atrocities of the First World War, seemed an expression of hope and renewal. The orchestra gave an astounding performance, one of its best this season.
The sound emanated from the stage with visceral energy. It was abundant, exuberant, forceful, with urgency throughout the four continuous movements.
Here, the timpani had immediate, elemental presence, with two sets positioned antiphonally on stage. Timothy Jepson played the primary role, with Jonathan Goldstein joining in the fourth movement, their rolls and accented strikes a consistent dramatic and motivating force.