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Wuu joins symphony for grand season finale

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REVIEW

It’s a delight to get schooled by your home town orchestra. I thought Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture” was a blaring, banal affair, but apparently, my problem was that I hadn’t yet heard the Lansing Symphony perform it. To kick off Friday's season finale, brass managed to sculpt the “Midnight Mattress Madness Sale” opening fanfare into a truly noble clarion call. Eyeblink-quick convolutions of woodwind work — miles of twisting melody — were packed into the next few minutes with astonishing deftness.

Guest pianist Elliot Wuu tumbled into Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, almost in a rush, but he added weight and focus as he went along, creating a rich study in light and shade. His mastery of contrast, pacing and drama never cramped his playfulness. The result was a natural effusion of unforced beauty. Each note seemed to float in the air, like a droplet of water vapor — a rainbow totality emerging from a thousand suspended prisms.

Season finales always end with a big showcase for the entire orchestra, and Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances” was no exception. Straight out of the gate, a thumping, gymnastic figure, three notes played three times, rolled across the stage like a trio of bear cubs under a blanket.

When the tumult subsided, the winds and reeds, beginning with principal oboist Stephanie Shapiro and principal clarinet Guy Yehuda, raked a perfect Zen garden for saxophonist Joe Luloff to emerge from the shadows with a series of soulful solos. With each round, Luloff poured purpler puffs of perfection into the ether.

The violins, with a muscular rumble of piano, picked up the melodic ball and it was time for sheer ravishment. The bear-ish bounce returned, the dance energy accelerated into the requisite storm and the extra-large orchestra delicately “dinked” the first of two patented Rachmaninov soft landings.

The joy of this enthralling performance came from the fusion of a huge, grand sound and an air of tender intimacy. A demonic undertow made it even more compelling. In the middle innings, a haunting violin solo by concertmaster Ran Cheng set the table for a dream sequence of soft-focus waltzes. Soon the forces gathered, like they do, for what seemed to be a big finish, but instead — another “dink.” They love to tease you that way. The fireworks were reserved for the finale, a syncopated salvo of stomps and flourishes suitable for a grand goodbye.

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