The Wichita Symphony delivered a wonderful array of musical selections Sunday easily likened to the courses of a gourmet meal. The orchestra was led in this concert by guest conductor Daniel Hege, who will become its new director next season.
The appetizing opener featured Claude Debussy's impressionist masterpiece Nocturnes. Each movement of this atmospheric piece evokes pictures and moods suggested by their titles — Clouds, Festivals and Sirens. Debussy was highly innovative in creating imaginative colors and harmonies with the forces of the orchestra.
There are numerous solo passages and each soloist in his turn did them justice. Pitch in the woodwinds was occasionally challenging, however, and phrasing in the trumpets in the second movement wasn't well unified. But the ensemble between the flute and harp in the first movement was impeccable.
Overall, Hege's interpretation was somewhat dry for a piece from this period. But a special pleasure was provided by the symphony's women's chorus, led by Cecil Riney, which provided a strong and accurate reading of the Nocturnes' final movement known as Sirens. The chorus interpreted with skill the myth of the winged maidens who lure sailors to shipwreck with the beauty of their song.
The next course in this feast was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, with soloist Christopher Taylor providing a thoughtful and elegant performance.
Mozart was among the most notable composers of the classical period, yet this performance brought out a romantic quality in the piece. Not inappropriate, but considering its place on this program after the expansive Debussy, a crisper interpretation would have been welcome — something of a musical palate cleanser.
More incisive playing on the part of the orchestra would have also helped ensemble playing, which at times was somewhat tenuous. That said, there was much beautiful playing in this performance and Taylor played with much grace.
Following intermission, the orchestra delivered the musical main course, Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony in F Minor, a stormy piece written during a tumultuous time in the composer's life.
This performance started with strength and clarity, with bold fanfare figures in the winds and then the brass. This is a large and complex piece in which Tchaikovsky alternates and entwines grandiose fanfares and lyrical sections with more intimate solo statements. While their interpretations could have been more unified, each of the solo winds in their turn played rapturously.
In particular, Gerald Scholl's timpani playing was clear and incisive, providing perfect impetus to the performance.
The strings played with richness and fervor, and must be commended for the strength and beauty of their playing throughout the concert. The horns accorded themselves well with powerful playing in the final section as Hege drove the orchestra to a passionate conclusion.