The Kansas City Symphony celebrated the age of Romanticism Friday with works by leading contemporaries of emotional individualism, Chopin and Berlioz, exemplifying the Romantic ideal: lovelorn, tempestuous, creative and unique.
Guest conductor Jun Märkl led the orchestra with demanding gestures infused with balletic movement, and excellent control over sudden silences.
All the works from the program were written during the composers’ younger, passionate years, in the early stages of their careers. The concert opened with Stravinsky’s orchestral arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne no. 10 in A-flat Major.
The melody wafted through the ensemble, with fine solo instances from violin, flute and clarinet supported by cello. The very beginning figure started out unbalanced in the winds, but developed nicely, ending well on the whimsical final statement.
The two larger works in the program were both inspired by unrequited love interests. Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 was an abstract homage, a vibrant virtuosic showpiece.
Ran Dank was the last-minute replacement when the original soloist fell ill. Dank offered a confident and rich performance. The complex, yet flowing lines were interspersed with robust tutti sections, aggressive punctuations giving way to deft, elegant ornaments, earning spontaneous applause from the audience after the first movement.
He brought a lovely perspective to the lush phrasing during the second movement, with an accommodating orchestral accompaniment. The final movement, with a fiery attitude and playful rhythms of the mazurka, was a headlong rush colored by clever, pouncing interjections showing off Chopin’s innovative writing style, as Dank glided over trippingly intricate figures.
His encore was Vladimir Horowitz’ arrangement of Variations on Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” the heralding trills introducing the familiar tune treated from simple to symphonic.
Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique” was inspired by his overzealous infatuation and follows a narrative of drug induced dream-states. A fragile opening grew with ever-mounting insistence into tangibly anxiety-ridden torment.
Märkl directed the nuanced orchestration in an energetic performance of immense scope. A sturdy bass presence impressed throughout, as did the clarinet’s haunting motivic iterations, English horn and oboe duet, bassoon tutti, and emphatic timpani rolls.
A blast from the brass added another element to the swirling excitement with gnarly descending lines and forceful sforzandi. The strings’ creepy, scratchy effects set up the clarinet’s macabre dance melody. The Dies Irae quotation had a pounding, foreboding familiarity, powerfully evocative, with clamoring bells and terrifying low voices, reaching the visceral peak of dynamic range for a thunderous finale.