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KSO Weighs in with Shostakovich

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Oct 16, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

   Hans and Franz were onsite for the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra’s “Muscular Music” Saturday night in Greaves Hall at Northern Kentucky University.
   In a hilarious twist on the pre-concert “lecture,” music director James R. Cassidy and associate conductor/principal second violinist Tom Consolo appeared in sweats (on a video screen behind the orchestra) to introduce the program.
   Schwarzenegger accents, body-builder poses and all, the two offered pointers about the music to be performed – selections from “Spartacus” by Khachaturian, “Lex” and “Red Cape Tango” from “Metropolis” Symphony by Michael Daugherty and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.
   It was an inspired bit of fun, delightfully in accord with the KSO’s mission to keep its concerts accessible, perhaps even a template for further initiatives.
   The themed program, also trademark KSO, comprised music with brawn, beginning with Khachaturian’s 1954 ballet based on the hero of the ancient Roman slave rebellion. Excerpts – all very cinematic and aligned with the Soviet Union’s prescribed “socialist realist” aesthetic included the lively”Dance of the Greek Slaves,” the lush, romantic “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia” (theme music for the 1970s PBS series “The Onedin Line” and remarkably similar to Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather”) and the snappy “Variations of Aegina and Bacchanalia.”
   KSO concertmistress Manami White turned in a daunting performance in ”Lex” (for arch-villain Lex Luthor), first movement of Daugherty’s five-part symphony inspired by comic book hero Superman. The turbulent, percussion-rich score (marked “diabolic”) sends the solo violin on a mad dash over the strings, negotiating extreme high notes, parallel octaves, glissandi and tricky left-hand pizzicato.
   “Red Cape Tango,” an obsessive, every-which-way transformation of the medieval “Dies Irae” worked into a jazzy sweat, the bassoon solo recalling Daugherty’s popular “Dead Elvis.”
   Hans and Franz returned after intermission with party hats and blowouts in observance of the Shostakovich centennial and the KSO’s 15th anniversary. The composer’s Fifth Symphony showed the latest KSO edition to be a promising one (as a free lance ensemble, attrition rates vary from 5-25 percent a year, Cassidy said). The string sound was full and rich, sumptuously so in the cellos, though all sections played with great accuracy and ensemble precision.
   Cassidy set a somber tone in the opening movement, yielding to high spirits in the second and heartfelt emotion in the third. Despite the hollow rejoicing found in the finale by most conductors, especially those from former Eastern bloc countries – Shostakovich is known today to have laced his music with anti-Soviet messages -- Cassidy gave it the rapid-paced, triumphal treatment favored by those who prefer to take it at face value. It saves on stamina, said Cassidy (who himself was under the weather Saturday). Not only that, but politics doesn’t cling to art forever, and regrettable though it may be, most listeners today don’t get the message anyway.
   Saturday’s audience was thrilled by the brassy conclusion, responding with bravos and a spontaneous standing ovation.
   The KSO’s next concert, “Solace for Survivors,” featuring Brahms’ Requiem, is Nov. 10 and 11 at Greaves Hall. Information at (859) 431-6215 and the KSO web site at www.kyso.org,
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Oct. 16, 2006)