published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Russian music warms the souls of Chattanooga Symphony and Opera faithful

Mel R. Wilhoit/Correspondent
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While the Scenic City enjoys temperatures in the balmy 60s, the thermometer in Russia recently has plunged to record levels of frigidity.

Which made it all the more inviting to join the Chattanooga Symphony's most recent musical journey to the frozen North in the comfort of the toasty Tivoli Theatre. A "Russian Spectacular" theme entertained patrons Thursday evening as Music Director Kayoko Dan led the orchestra in an all-Russian program.

Opening the concert was Mikhail Glinka's "Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla," based on Pushkin's fairy-tale poem. Its sparkling themes and bubbling orchestration were smartly guided by Dan, making it a perfect opening for this program.

Although Serge Prokofiev's "Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor" stems from the 1930s, this was the CSO's first performance of this work, played by fiery guest soloist Jennifer Koh. A native of Chicago, she has gained an international reputation, including winning the coveted Tchaikovsky Competition and recording many albums performed on a 1727 Stradivarius.

Filled with sarcasm and irony, the first movement lurched between agitated anguish and lush lyricism while the second flirted with dissonance on the one hand and pulsating lyricism on the other.

The lengthy final movement was nothing short of fiendish in the demands it made on Koh, whose body flailed as much as her blazing bow. Yet her tone was always full and her intonation flawless as she exhibited a breathlessly astounding technique. Dan also should be credited for bringing an intelligent and convincing interpretation to this challenging work.

The final Russian offering was Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 4 in F minor." In a letter to his patron, the composer spoke of Fate that seemed to stifle his happiness at every turn. The four movements provide various faces of that ghost.

While the first movement was well played, it lacked that Russian soul which the orchestra found during the second, filled with colorful solos by Robert Burkes, oboe, and Eric Anderson, bassoon. The novel third movement -- almost totally pizzicato strings -- was beautifully played and set the stage for a rousing fourth movement that brought back the opening Fate motif. Its cascading excitement brought a standing ovation.

The concert will be repeated today at 8 p.m. It will be broadcast on WSMC 90.5 FM on Wednesday.

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