April 7, 2008 in City

Saturday’s Symphony program elicits range of emotions

Travis Rivers Correspondent

The Spokane Symphony concert Saturday began in sadness and ended in triumph.

Conductor Eckart Preu began the concert with an unscheduled tribute to Bernard M. “Kop” Kopczynski, a Spokane builder and longtime symphony and art supporter who died Thursday. Preu chose Variation No. 9 from Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. And the orchestra played the work with beautiful warmth of tone and quiet passion. The glow of the acoustics further enhanced the performance. To begin the official program, Preu turned to a more recent British master, Benjamin Britten, and the “Four Sea Interludes” from his opera “Peter Grimes.” Preu gave the interludes the sweep of a “sea symphony” reflecting a range of moods from a quiet “Dawn” to a fearsome “Storm.” The orchestra made Britten’s sea glimmer with the well played interplay of flutes and harp, and characterized its depth and vastness with resonant brass and low strings.

Among the most striking touches was the intrusion of ghostly fragments of dance music during the violent “Storm” finale.

One of the great pleasures of listening to and writing about music over a long period is watching the development of soloists who return at several points in their careers.

Anne Akiko Meyers first performed in Spokane as a 25-year-old in 1995. She played Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, the same work she played Saturday. She had given the concerto “a rest” before returning to it recently. Her virtuosity showed Meyers to have lost none of her youthful luster, but those years of experience have led her to explore the two sides of Prokofiev’s style more boldly.

She brought even more sensuous warmth to the lyric theme that introduces the concerto. That theme’s return near the end of the concerto, embellished with a chain of trills, was a magic moment.

These days, Meyers takes more risks with Prokofiev’s risky music. The vigorous succession of sharply detached down-bow strokes in the Scherzo gave a gritty, mocking irony to the passage. And there was a fleeting moment in the first movement where Meyers, unaccompanied, played a succession of increasingly dissonant intervals, like a chess player contemplating a bold move, before pouncing into the movement’s headlong rush to its endgame.

Meyers rewarded a standing ovation with an unusual encore, an unaccompanied version of Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” ending with her own tasteful improvised decorations on the return of the song’s chorus.

After intermission, Preu introduced Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 with a brief, humorous description of the composer’s approach to symphonic writing: He creates a background of sustained or slowly changing chords to bind things together, makes a middle ground of some fidgety fast notes (“like thousands of little trolls,” Preu said) to keep the action moving, and introduces mosaic fragments that eventually assemble themselves into long-lined melody.

Then Preu and the orchestra showed exactly how that worked in splendid performance of the Symphony No. 5. There were many fine solos and performances by whole sections of the orchestra, such as Lynne Feller-Marshall’s bassoon solo in the first movement and the long, carefully controlled crescendos from the horns in the second movement.

But it was the orchestra as a whole that made the work a triumphal ending to the evening. The final six hammer blows that conclude the work might well have brought the audience to its feet. Perhaps we were just too stunned.

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