The Kansas City Symphony’s energetic performance Friday in Helzberg Hall was marked by an inventive new work, a duo of impressive guest artists and engaging symphonic readings, conducted by artistic director Michael Stern.
The concert began with the thick opening chords of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35.
Stern’s interpretation was straight-ahead and muscular, the voices digging into the line with a forward energy that had more width than depth. The orchestra climbed the ascending intervals instead of bouncing off them, resulting in a performance that was spirited though not drastically varied.
Variety was in abundance for the Kansas City premiere of André Previn’s Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra. Written for and performed by violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, husband and wife collaborators, the work was co-commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony.
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Previn is a multi-award-winning composer, performer and conductor. His experience in jazz, classical and film scoring was exhibited here.
The three-movement work leapt and crackled with unexpected colors and design. Robinson’s strong, darkly inflected opening cello line was answered with matching timbre by Laredo. The orchestra entered, tossing melodic fragments throughout the ensemble.
The thematic material of the first movement had a mercurial quality, starting angular then suddenly turning grandiose, with pockets of romanticism and more familiar-sounding resolutions. Frequent, fast tempo meter changes created evident concern for the orchestra, though the soloists’ virtuosity persevered.
The second movement (“Slow”) had a lovely sepia-toned quality, as though from another era, with a gorgeous simultaneous statement from the soloists.
The pastiche effect returned in the final movement with aggressive strikes from brass and percussion, playful cello line and triumphant strings, culminating in a reverberant final chord.
The audience, usually fervid in ovation, was slow to rise with a warm, but slightly dazed reception.
Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in D minor was more readily received. The orchestra gave an assured performance, though more effort toward achieving softer dynamics would have allowed more growth.
The timpani’s somber, tromping beat had a steady fatalistic edge, softened by saturated themes presented in excellent solo voices from oboe, clarinet and violin. The chordal work from horns and trombones burst from the texture like daybreak.
In the final push, Stern collected a nice bounce of silence before the invigoratingly forceful ending chord. The audience did not hesitate with its clamorous approval.