Tuesday, January 25, 2005

JH - Minnesota Orchestra concert of 1/21/05

Ok, so maybe it's not fair to review a concert that I didn't actually attend. I wouldn't have been alone in my absence, since we had a rather nasty snowstorm on Friday evening, which I will not whine about, for we may have readers in New York and Boston where they really got snow.

Fortunately for us here in the Twin Cities, when we can't get to Orchestra Hall we can just pull up a chair and listen to the concert live on our local classical station. With a decent stereo system, it's almost like being there. Well, no it's not, but it's better than nothing.

The concert opened with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, a Christmas present to his wife Cosima. I'm happy when I get a DVD of any Fred Astaire movie, much less a piece written for me played by fifteen musicians outside my bedroom door. However, Wagner was a man who defined "over the top" for generations to come.

A favorite motif of Wagner's is the use of a solo horn. A few years ago I would have cringed waiting for this passage, but the orchestra's horn section has improved so much over the past couple of years that I looked forward to it instead and was pleased with the performance. The orchestra has steadily improved overall since I began listening to them after moving to the Twin Cities twelve years ago.

The second piece on the program was a 2001 composition by Lowell Liebermann, his Violin Concerto ably played by Chantal Juillet, for whom the concerto was written. I try to keep an open mind where new music is concerned, but I'm so often disappointed that it's hard to remain optimistic. I can't say that I disliked the piece; it just didn't move me much. The orchestra and the soloist did a fine job, and I can appreciate the performance for that much. I just don't think that I'd jump online looking for a recording of it.

Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 made up the second half of the program. Written in 1944, it contains the feelings that Prokofiev had as the 2nd World War wore inevitably down. And, as so many other composers before and after him, he recycled his own themes, using passages that sounded much like the music from sections of the Romeo and Juliet ballet, written almost ten years before. In the second movement especially, his style jumps out. If you had just tuned in, you'd know immediately that it was a Prokofiev composition, a combination of the Russian passion of his musical ancestors and the modern world crashing in, a sort of Copland-goes-to-Russia.

It may have been a small audience, but the orchestra played as though the house were full and listeners - in the hall and at home - were treated to another fine performace from the Minnesota Orchestra.

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