Saturday evening’s performance in the Century II Concert Hall by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra was exciting and well balanced. Erudite and engaging music director Daniel Hege welcomed the audience and provided a context for the music before launching into the first piece.
Maurice Ravel wrote “Le Tombeau de Couperin” as a suite for piano; After its very successful premiere in 1919 he orchestrated four movements of this homage to 18th century French baroque music for small orchestra. Noted for his skills in orchestration and revered for many beautiful large-scale works, Ravel scored the orchestral version for a group of modest proportions, in keeping with his concept for the original piece.
The oboe solos in “Le Tombeau,” particularly in the first movement, are noted for their virtuosic demands and principal oboist Andrea Banke was equal to the task. Banke’s playing was sinuous and elegant. The orchestra as a whole rendered the score faithfully although matters of pitch could be more closely minded. This is an individual responsibility that no music director can cure, other than through inspiration.
“Symphony No. 40” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart provided a perfect balance to the Ravel. As noted by Hege in his opening remarks, Mozart mostly wrote for commission, but “Symphony No. 40” sprang from a period of productive inspiration when, at the age of 32, he wrote three great symphonies in a matter of a few weeks. Hege’s convincing interpretation of this piece was elegant and very satisfying. The orchestra’s playing was well controlled and polished. Phrasing was not always consistent from section to section, but this is a trifle, in a less restrained interpretation these minor differences would have barely stood out.
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After intermission, violin soloist Chee-Yun rendered Jean Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto in D” minor with power, grace and fire. This piece, started by the composer amidst much personal turmoil underwent much revision, ultimately taking shape as work of great complexity and beauty. The orchestra met the challenges of this score very well, although the French horn section experienced a prolonged period of tuning instability in the second movement. Chee-Yun’s command of her instrument and the piece were truly awe-inspiring. The spell she cast in her performance held the audience in rapt awe, most notable in the breathless silence following the second movement.
In his second season with the Wichita Symphony, it is exciting to hear Maestro Hege carry out his vision as music director. In his first season, the charm of his musical interpretations were apparent. This season he is striving to take the orchestra to new levels of perform through disciplined yet still highly musical interpretations.