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REVIEW: Philharmonic fabulous and on fire
Who: The Colorado Springs Philharmonic, cello soloist Jan Vogler, conductor Joseph Caballé-Domenech, the women of the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble
When: 2:30 p.m. today
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $19-$59; 520-7469; pikespeakcenter.com
Repertoire: Music by Stravinsky, Debussy and Bloch
Next: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet with Ballet Idaho, Nov. 23-25
There was a distinctly different air to the orchestra as it stood at the conclusion of this two hour-long concert. Under the leadership of music director Josep Caballé-Domenech, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic had just completed an artistic treatise on the launching of modern music - performing four compositions composed between 1894 and 1915. The performance had been excellent. They welcomed the accolades of Saturday night's packed Pikes Peak Center. The players were proud and joyful, owning the significance of what they had achieved.
This third "Classical Masterworks" concert of the 2012-13 season fittingly began with a piece often credited with heralding in the 20th century musical revolution: Claude Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" from 1894. Paul Nagem's solo flute set the tone for a sumptuous reading of this unassuming tone poem that did much to break down the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic norms of Post-Romantic Europe.
Caballé-Domenech asked for and received a wide range of expression. His artistic temperment demanded more variety in tempi and dynamics than what is usually expressed in this work. While this was an impressive feat, it stood in the way of the dreamlike sense of the unconscious that for me has always been the payoff of this piece.
Ernest Bloch's "Schelomo" or "Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra" from 1915 projects exactly the opposite. Cellist Jan Vogler's powerfully expressed the gut-wrenching conflicts and unanswerable questions that lay deep inside of the soul of King Solomon as he appears in the Old Testament. The orchestra was a full partner in this- far more than a mere accompanist and at times acting the role of protagonist to the voice of the legendary monarch.
Caballé-Domenech made certain that every ounce of detail was revealed in the score while leaving plenty of space for Vogler's remarkably rich tone to transfix the hall. The whole was a stunningly dramatic experience that captured a fascinating collision of the very ancient and the very modern.
The most impressive performance of the evening came in Debussy's "Nocturnes for Orchestra" from 1899. Here, orchestra and conductor surrendered themselves to the vision of the composer. The colors and moods of these three gems came off the stage in a pure and unadulterated fashion.
The strings provided the perfect canvas for Susanne Sawchuk's patient and effortless English Horn solo which was pervasive in Nuages (Clouds). Fêtes (Festivals) completely altered the energy and the orchestra displayd flawless facility as it romped through this rhythmically erratic and image-filled score. For Sirènes (Sirens) the orchestra was joined by the women of the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble who provided a sound through their wordless chorus that perfectly completed the bold scoring that Debussy had devised. With Caballé-Domenech needing to give extra attention to the small chorus, the philharmonic's players upped their level of concentration to assure that everything held together.
While it felt like the proceeding pieces could have easily constituted a satisfying evening of music, there was still a major work to be performed. Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, published in 1919 and lifted from the score of the popular ballet that debuted in1910, put an ecstatic crown on an evening of great achievement. This one is still sounding in my head as I recall beautiful and expressive solos from principal players: Matthew Scheffelman's round, rich and dominating French Horn; David Zuercher's heralding trumpet; Guy Dutra-Silveira's introspective oboe; Tristan Rennie's characterful bassoon; Sergei Vassiliev's effortless clarinet; and the sensitive sounds of the string principles: violinist Michael Hanson, violist Catherine Hanson, and cellist Jeffrey Watson.
But the entire orchestra whipped through this difficult score with power and conviction in complete synch with their conductor.