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Wednesday, January 15,2014

Premium Russia

Lansing Symphony makes hearts sing at latest MasterWorks concert

by UTE VON DER HEYDEN
The Lansing Symphony Orchestra sounded great at its MasterWorks 4 concert, “Tchaikovsky & Beyond,” at the Wharton Center Saturday night. The all-Russian program began and ended with suites from two of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake,” and included another, less performed ballet suite from Igor Stravinsky: “The Fairy’s Kiss.” The program also featured a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 by guest soloist David Requiro.

The theatrical, romantic tones of the two Tchaikovskys were the highlights of the evening, and although the complex, more contemporary pieces by Stravinsky and Shostakovich were more difficult to take in, as an entity, this was an exciting evening of music.

The program began strong with the rich, enchanting harmonies of “Sleeping Beauty,” with the percussions and harp adding even more substance and sparkle than what was already offered. “This makes my heart sing,” someone in the audience whispered.

Of the four selections, this piece is probably the most familiar, and can conjure up all kinds of magical images. What woman hasn’t danced to the “Waltz” movement alone in her kitchen with an imaginary prince in perfect three-quarter time? (Yes, I am one of them.) The orchestra played the piece with such crisp freshness and finesse that I felt like I was hearing it for the very first time.

Soloist Requiro, an artist in residence in cello and chamber music at the University of Puget Sound, came next. He tackled the cello concerto with serious intent and obvious technical skill but little feeling, a surprising approach to a piece in which intense, passionate emotions play such a big part.

It was clear that the award-winning Requiro deserves his rising star reputation and that conductor Timothy Muffitt was wise to invite him here early in his career before he becomes too hard to get. But somehow he failed to connect with the audience — except for a group of people who loudly hooted and hollered every time he appeared on stage, managing to annoy many in the mostly older crowd. Lansing Symphony audiences have a reputation for granting enthusiastic, spontaneous standing ovations, but Requiro’s was slow and reluctant in coming, in sharp contrast to the one the orchestra received at the end of the program.

The Stravinsky suite from “The Fairy Kiss” opened the second half of the program. It was lavish and fervent, but had so much going on at one time that it was difficult to grasp. It appeared that Stravinsky had woven so many different musical vignettes into the piece that I found it disorienting. Nevertheless, it was definitely appreciated by the discerning audience that was not confused. It also helped that the orchestra played the work with total confidence and conviction.

The crowning glory of the evening was “Swan Lake.” Mesmerizing the audience into a virtual motionless state, it featured extensive solo work for harp, violin and cello, all brilliantly played by the principals in each area and flawlessly supported by the orchestra.

The rousing last minutes of the “Waltz” movement were nothing short of heart stopping. Even though entranced, it occurred to me to wonder how Muffitt might be feeling. No one could blame him if at that moment he were bursting with pride (not for himself, but for his musicians) and thinking to himself: “Hey, people, right here, right now, this is the best of Tchaikovsky and this is the best of your symphony orchestra.”

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