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CLASSICAL REVIEW

MITSO Discovers ‘Lord of the Rings’

Shostakovich Symphony, Reprise of World Premiere Make for Long But Animated Concert

By Bogdan Fedeles

Staff Writer

MIT Symphony Orchestra

Dante Anzolini, conductor

Insoo Kim ’05, violin

Kresge Auditorium

Dec. 5, 8 p.m.

Last Friday, during a cold and snowy evening, MITSO performed their end of term concert, comprised of 20th and 21st century music. Despite being very long and repetitive (one piece was performed twice), the concert was well-received by a large and brave audience. The program included a world premiere by Italian composer Giovanni D’Aquila (“Through the mines of Moria”), Glazunov’s Violin Concerto (featuring soloist Insoo Kim, ’05) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11.

The title of Giovanni D’Aquila’s piece, “Through the Mines of Moria,” takes us instantaneously to J.R.R Tolkien’s world of the “Lord of the Rings.” The intention of the piece, however is ambiguous. It sounded both like a musical poem and incidental film music. However, the piece did not have a character of its own, relying exclusively on the story’s details.

The music describes the fellowship of the ring passing through the mines of Moria, and wizard Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. Without the story, the piece doesn’t make a lot of sense musically. Nevertheless, there is a lot of pretty music to enjoy superficially and given the solid performance that MITSO delivered, it was enough for the audience to enjoy this piece, even twice. This is because the piece was performed at the beginning of each half of the concert -- the second time, with the belated, but welcomed composer in audience.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11, subtitled “The Year 1905,” perhaps the most programmatic of his works, follows a story line as well (the early 1905 Russian revolution), and yet the music is more independent and more descriptive than the D’Aquila piece.

A symphony of grand proportions, Shostakovich’s 11th runs for more than an hour, which seems incredibly long, especially after a 35-minute intermission. However, MITSO performed eloquently, enticing the audience until the very last minute.

The bleak atmosphere of the beginning in the “The Palace Square” was well depicted, featuring an excellent string section seconded by the harps. The tuttis of the intense second movement (“The ninth of January”) were forceful, but not too loud. A revived percussion section, with many new people, dominated the ensemble and the evening, without overdoing it. The military rhythms so often encountered in Shostakovich’s music were rendered with a lot of determination and character.

A good viola section stood out the in the third movement (“Eternal Memory”), singing very intensely the mourning theme, later picked up with the same pathos by the whole string section and woodwinds. The finale (“Alarm”) featured more exact ensemble work, with good brass and percussion above expressive string and woodwind playing. Especially good was the closing English horn solo (Molly G. Bright ’06), very passionate and musical. All in all, when challenged with the huge expanses of the Russian symphonic landscapes, such as this piece, MITSO confirmed its class and delivered a high caliber performance, very descriptive and genuine.

The special moment in the program was Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, performed by Insoo Kim ’05, co-winner of the Concerto Competition last year. A staple of the violin repertoire, and of early 20th century music, Glazunov’s concerto offers remarkable interpretation challenges, together with some brilliant technical work, all in a fairly succinct piece that runs without pause.

Kim displayed an excellent command of the violin, with a solid technique and very expressive playing. The lyrical passages were utterly romantic, full of indulging slides and wide vibratos. When audible, the expansive technical passages sounded fresh and detached, Kim showing a relaxed easiness of playing, very enjoyable to watch.

I write “when audible,” because the main flaw of the piece was the balance with the orchestra. Glazunov’s thick orchestration demanded a more careful blending of the soloist with the orchestra, which sadly, didn’t quite happen. The accompaniments were often too bold and too loud, overwhelming the solo part, especially in its low register. Kim was relaxed enough and didn’t try to overcompensate, thus delivering a very consistent performance, even if at times very independent from the orchestra.

The cadenza was especially vivid and sparkling. Of course, we can also blame, like many performers do, Kresge Auditorium itself, a hall whose front stage is in a rather odd acoustical spot that doesn’t project well.

Nevertheless, Kim’s rendition of Glazunov’s concerto with MITSO was colorful and engaging, lacking at most a handful of careful rehearsals for balance and overall ensemble sonority.