On Saturday evening in Century II Concert Hall, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, lead by music director Daniel Hege, performed works by Nielsen, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius in a program titled Nordic Excursions. Before the concert began, WSO executive director Don Reinhold delivered welcoming remarks. While Reinholds mission of promoting the orchestra is laudable, the placement of these comments has a negative effect on the concert. The performers came to the stage charged to perform and their energy was damped as they politely waited. By the time the ensemble was allowed to tune, the procedure was less than satisfying.
The concert began with The Overture to Masquerade by Carl Nielsen. In the piece, Nielsen conjures the mood of an 18th Century masked ball. There was some very evocative playing in the orchestra, but the ensemble of the violins impaired the atmosphere. Tuning was not the best, but the issues can be attributed to the waiting time.
On the second piece, the Violin Concerto in D Major by Tchaikovsky, the group seemed to have recaptured their energy and sounded sufficiently warmed up. The violin soloist, Jennifer Frautschi, played with beauty and demonstrated effortless technique, but she was not always in balance with the orchestra. While the conductor should take care that the orchestra is not overwhelming the soloist with sound, in this case the ensembles dynamic levels seemed right for the piece; it would have been better for Frautschi to project her tone with more verve.
The second movement of the concerto contained some exquisitely delicate moments where the orchestra and soloist drew the audience into intimate moments of refined phrasing and tone.
The concert concluded with Symphony No. 2 by Jan Sibelius. So popular was Sibelius in his homeland of Finland, he was awarded a government stipend to compose. Sibelius symphonies are large works and a highly rewarding performance is dependent on very precise pacing.
Two years ago Hege guided the orchestra through an exhilarating performance of Sibelius 5th Symphony, demonstrating deft interpretation of the score. On Saturday evening the orchestra played with a beautiful sound, but the performance tended more toward lumbering than noble. Amidst much fine playing throughout the ensemble, principal oboist Andrea Banke and principal trumpeter David Hunsicker distinguished themselves by their artistic command of their instruments.