This weekend marked the second concert of the Wichita Symphony's classical season, presented in Century II Concert Hall and led with great skill and flourish by Maestro Andrew Sewell. The orchestra took the audience on an exhilarating ride through a landscape of musical colors more vibrant than the brilliant foliage of fall.
The journey began at breakneck speed with Hector Berlioz's Corsair Overture. The strings were breathtaking as they flew through the opening with clarity and precision. Berlioz was noted for his orchestration, writing a book on the subject that is still studied today.
In its most pedestrian form, orchestration is a matter of deciding which instruments should play the parts of a piece. Taken to the level of art, a composer such as Berlioz utilizes the instruments of the orchestra in combinations that yield beautifully unique sounds and textures.
The orchestra made the most of this score, weaving its sounds with skill and precision. The woodwinds demonstrated their ability to blend, and the brass played with vigor, although their zeal caused their pitch to occasionally stray.
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After allowing the audience a moment to catch its breath, the orchestra was joined on stage by the engaging young soloist Ryu Goto for a fiery performance of Paganini's First Violin Concerto.
Paganini was a violinist himself and, following the tradition of other great soloists, he chose to compose pieces showcasing his formidable talents. While this motivation has given rise to more substantial works, the pieces Paganini produced have proven to be enduring vehicles for the virtuoso violinist.
Goto was clearly up to the challenge of Paganini's score, playing with stunning technique, beauty of sound and accuracy of pitch. After receiving an enthusiastic and deserved ovation from the audience, Goto performed an extensive set of unaccompanied variations on "America," amazingly demonstrating abilities and techniques not called for in the Paganini.
Following intermission, the orchestra gave a rousing performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Justly revered as a master of the symphonic form, Beethoven himself considered Symphony No. 7 to be among his best. Sewell's interpretation was spirited, yet also sympathetic to the beauty and subtlety of the score. There were occasional lapses of ensemble precision and pitch, but nothing sufficient to mar the communication of Beethoven's intent.
Saturday's performance was eminently enjoyable. From programming to execution, the symphony provided listeners with a delightful experience, establishing a great stride to embrace the season of treasures that lie ahead.