Saturday, October 16, 2021

Orchestra Hall, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

For the third time of asking during this DSO subscription week Leonard Slatkin (music director laureate) introduced new works from two senior composers, Samuel Adler and Joseph Schwantner.

Adler’s fifteen-minute Mirror Images, for full orchestra, proved diverting in its alternations of slow and fast, seriousness and humour, mysterious suggestiveness/sad lyricism and full-on dance routines; Bernstein, Hindemith (especially) and Shostakovich are in the mix, but Adler is clearly his own man, and it was good to see the ninety-three-year-old composer in the audience belying his age.

Schwantner’s thirty-five-minute Violin Concerto, written for Yevgeny Kutik, is a compelling piece. No less colourful in terms of scoring, if reducing heavy brass (two trumpets, one trombone) while including a piano and a harp and using percussion subtly and variedly. During the fascinating first movement, which opens darkly, it would be pointless to second-guess what happens next, but the transformations are made inevitable. The second and final movement, beginning dramatically, is animated and beguilingly detailed, fading to dusky reminiscences, then rising to affirmation. Kutik (a violinist new to me and quite a find) gave a technically brilliant, rich-toned and musically intense performance, Slatkin in total control of the mosaic-like orchestration. As for the piece itself, it needs to be listened to again to fully appreciate the many facets; however, even if it’s perhaps too easy a reference, if you love Barber’s Violin Concerto, you’ll love the Schwantner, and he too was present.

Following the interval an impressive Tchaikovsky Five – from foreboding to triumph in forty-eight minutes, the DSO (Kimberly Kaloyanides Kennedy, concertmaster) in excellent form. Accepting current music director Jader Bignamini’s preference for cellos seated outside-right, Slatkin (who opted for violas in that position during his tenure, sometimes antiphonal violins, led a purposeful if yielding first movement, striding and romantically yearning, and then, effectively attached to its predecessor, a spacious Andante cantabile, in which Karl Pituch’s horn solo was beautifully shaped, eloquently shadowed by clarinet and oboe, and with some especially quiet dynamics in the strings, before a passionate climax was unleashed. Following an elegant third-movement waltz, Slatkin introducing some naughty-but-nice hesitations, the Finale made for a grand statement, not manic but striving determinedly to kick Fate into touch (just what your reviewer needed) with a majestic and thrilling peroration. Orchestra Hall’s platform has new risers, no doubt these contributed to the collegiate playing and the first-class broadcast sound. Good picture, too.

By the way, Mr Slatkin’s latest book is recently released. To borrow from his website: “… the publication of Leonard’s third book, Classical Crossroads: The Path Forward for Music in the 21st Century, available September 15 from Rowman & Littlefield and anywhere books are sold.”

Many Happy Returns to composer Samuel Adler, 93 today.

Many Happy Returns to composer Joseph Schwantner, 78 today.