MITSO concert features brilliant piano, violin solos
MIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Directed by David Epstein.
Featuring soloists Elaine Chew G and Euree Y. Kim '96.
Works by Strauss, Ibert, Bartok, and Beethoven.By Thomas Chen
Five days before the official first day of spring, one of the last stops on our MIT "Winterreise" in music is a Kresge concert by the MIT Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Epstein. Joining the orchestra were student soloists Elaine Chew G in Richard Strauss' Burleske in D minor for Piano and Orchestra and Euree Y. Kim '96 in Jacques Ibert's Concerto for Flute and Orchestra. The rest of the program consisted of Ludwig van Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Béla Bartók's Dance Suite. And the prominent timpani part in the Burleske was performed by percussionist extraordinaire Alan Pierson.
The program opened with a dutiful account of the Egmont Overture. The articulation was aptly crisp and uniformly executed throughout the orchestra's ranks. The incisiveness of the playing was delightful to hear and gave the music an extra edge without going out of tune. This incisiveness was carried over into the last item on the program, the Dance Suite (more familiar to me for its piano version). Perhaps here in Bartók, a degree of fierceness is acceptable. What I found particularly inspiring was the feeling for the folk music that Bartók so deftly incorporated into his music. The players conveyed a convincing inflection for these ethnic melodies and rhythms. As often is the case with this orchestra, the angular contours of Bartók and the urgency of Beethoven's music seem well suited to their sound world.
The orchestra was least successful when they accompanied Kim in the Ibert Flute Concerto. Here, the strings were found to waddle their way from one bar to the next. Poor ensemble was especially evident in the last movement. Despite the smoochy playing from various sections of the orchestra, Kim maintained an articulate solo line that was stylistically impeccable. Aside from another one written by Nielsen, modern flute concertos seem hard to come by and, personally speaking, generate little excitement. If anything is to broaden my musical tastes to flute music, then Kim's playing would surely be one of them. She is both secure and musical in every way. I am further amazed at the maturity of her playing and the confidence with which she presents it.
The Strauss Burleske was definitely the biggest reason I wanted to attend this concert. I would be surprised if most readers had previously heard of the "Strauss piano concerto." The is a piano showpiece in every way - almost monstrously so. One of the most beguiling parts to hear is the chromatic bravura passage that traverses nearly the entire keyboard of a modern grand piano. From this pianist's point of view, playing the Burleske is a feat that pushes the limits of human ability, even though examples of technically or intellectually more challenging music exist. (For a truly superhuman account of this piece, check out the 1992 New Year's Eve Concert in Berlin.)
The Burleske seems to hold little terror for Chew's pianism. Though the phrasing was somewhat boxy, Chew exhibited an appropriate musical flair that never boiled over into mannerism. She was effective in Strauss' most finger-breaking bravura passages, as well as his best (or worst) made-for-the-movies schmaltz. A slightly harrowing moment occurred at the second clarinet/piano exchange in the middle of the piece, where the orchestra sounded one bar behind its soloist. But conductor Epstein and Chew were able to get things back in order before the cadenza, which incidentally seemed to hint at a Tristan reference.
The audience applauded politely after each piece but curiously did not exude much enthusiasm for either of the excellent soloists. My understanding is that the next concert will feature another student soloist, and by then the spring weather will have awakened dormant sensibilities in more concertgoers and thus guarantee a warmer ovation.