Led by music director Daniel Hege, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra performed a beautifully balanced program of works on Saturday evening in the Century II Concert Hall. The composers of the three presented works developed the concept of theme and variation to the level of the sublime.
In the opening piece, “Rainbow Body,” American composer Christopher Theofanidis has created a very successful work, at once atmospheric and accessible; it was composed in 2000 and it has been performed and enjoyed widely since its premiere in 2003.
In an interesting blending of meditative traditions, Theofanidis utilizes a medieval chant by Benedictine Mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen as his central theme. In the development of this theme, he was inspired by Buddhist concepts of enlightenment.
In his opening remarks, Hege encouraged the audience to appreciate the cathedral effect that Theofanidis created by an intricate layering of notes. While the piece was quite beautiful and very well-played, the acoustical properties of the concert hall made it difficult to imagine the resonance of a cathedral that the piece is said to conjure.
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As the concert continued soloist Ilya Yakushev swept to the stage to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”
Yakushev has a very charismatic and energetic stage presence and his playing is deft and imaginative. Rachmaninoff places great demands on the soloist and orchestra in this piece and initially there were issues of coordination between the piano and the orchestra; the orchestral playing here had a frantic quality.
Equilibrium was quickly established however and there was some very good playing henceforth. The balance of dynamics between the soloist and the orchestra was excellent; the principal players projected their solo lines with polish.
A mark of a great orchestra is the ability of its musicians to blend their sounds across sections. While this beauty is often present in the melding of sounds within the symphony woodwinds, blending between the brass and the winds could be more sensitive.
After intermission, the orchestra performed Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” In this theme with 14 variations depicting friends and figures most important to him, Elgar created a tonal landscape as lush as the English countryside.
The playing throughout the piece was largely good. In the loudest sections of the piece, pitch and balance within the trombone section was jarring. Principal clarinetist Adrian Sandi’s playing was exquisitely soft and expressive and principal cellist Jakub Omsky‘s playing was equally transcendent.