Those who attended the opening concert of the Spokane Symphony’s season at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox had a close encounter with the power of music to thrill, stimulate and elevate; to offer us a glimpse of what is true and valuable in life.
The chief, but by no means only, source of this transforming experience was the playing of Daniil Trifonov, who appeared as soloist in Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major (1921). Prudence dictates that we wait a few years before describing him as what he already appears to be: one of the great pianists in the history of the instrument. His technique inspires wonder and delight in audiences and despair in pianists, who realize no matter how hard they may work, such mastery may be beyond their grasp.
The Prokofiev concerto is a catalog of pianistic challenges that Trifonov consumed like bon-bons, crossing hands with unfailing accuracy, dispatching passage-work with unprecedented speed, and, perhaps most remarkably, playing soft passages with a blend of tenderness and intensity that made one stop breathing, in the hope that such a moment might last forever.
As an encore, Trifonov played the concluding section of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” in an arrangement for piano solo of such fiendish difficulty as to make the preceding concerto seem like a warm-up exercise. As the elated audience made its way to the lobby at intermission, Sherry Knott, who, with her husband, Frank, underwrote these concerts, was heard to say, “Next year, we won’t be able to afford him.” I’m afraid she may be right.
Having matched the soloist’s brilliance and virtuosity in the concerto, Eckart Preu and the orchestra returned for a gripping and passionate performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor (1937). In his pre-concert talk, Preu spoke of the symphony’s ambiguous depiction of the composer’s feelings toward Stalinism. One found no such ambiguity in Preu’s interpretation, however. He was himself subjected to indoctrination passing for education in East Germany. As he views it, Shostakovich’s D minor symphony is a tragic inversion of Beethoven’s D minor Symphony No. 9: While Beethoven finds salvation from existential doubt in the brotherhood of man, Shostakovich tears away the mask of brotherly love, to reveal the awful face of tyranny.
The power of this reading and the passionate commitment of the orchestra allowed the piece to stand as the emotional summit of the evening, despite the impact made by the Prokofiev concerto.
The 2012-’13 season is the orchestra’s sixth at the Fox, in celebration of which they opened the program with the first piece they performed in their new home, “Fanfare for the Fox” by Hans-Peter Preu. It proved an excellent opener: A delightfully eclectic work that shows off the full range of the ensemble’s sonority, as well as the superb acoustics of the hall.