Playing the big symphonic works with precision is a goal of any orchestra, and TFO always makes a point of delivering its sonic punches in detail.
This was the case over the weekend during an all-Russian program, a study in color and contrast under the baton of guest conductor Vladimir Kulenovic at Mahaffey Theater.
Saturday night offered its share of highlights, including what could be the exclamation point of the season: guest violinist Augustin Hadelich giving a master class on how to make a well-worn classic sound fresh. The 37-year-old virtuoso seems to own Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, judging from a performance that was both intense and intimate.
The Grammy winner is one of the most sought-after guests on the concert circuit, and for good reason. His innate feel for the music, its lyricism, atmosphere and bite, comes through in every measure, and he never opts for pyrotechnic displays as an end in themselves.
He opened with a somber five-note theme in G minor, played in the low register of his 1744 Guarneri. He guided listeners through a dark and earthy storyline through the entire movement, which ended with two plucked notes. A few people applauded, the soloist smiled, and Kulenovic turned around and blew a kiss to the audience.
In the second movement, Hadelich played a sweet, floating theme against the percolating orchestra, which together created an opera-like aria of time-stopping beauty. After an energetic finale spiced by castanets, Hadelich returned for an encore: a rollicking Louisiana Blues Strut by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.
The evening opened with the 10-minute tone poem Icarus, by Lera Auerbach, who was born in 1973 in Chelyabinsk, a town in the Ural Mountains near the Siberian border. She found inspiration in the Greek story of Daedalus, who made wings made out of feathers and wax so he and his son Icarus could escape their imprisonment from the Labyrinth of King Minos.
Needless to say, things didn’t go well, and Aurebach reflects the tragedy in a frenzied march, the music teeming with frayed and clashing rhythms. The piece also incorporates the ethereal sound of the theremin, an electronic instrument, played by TFO Principal Librarian Ella Fredrickson. The orchestra kept listeners on edge with its whirling, spiral effects as father and son ascend and descend, ending with the soft but piercing sound of amplified crystal glasses.
Kulenovic wrapped up with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Ravel, the dignified promenade that leads us through a museum changing colors like a chameleon. TFO captured the varying mood of the piece – from somber to grotesque to triumphant – bringing the audience to its feet in the Great Gate of Kiev, a rousing flourish for full orchestra and tubular bells.