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REVIEW: Philharmonic lights up Pikes Peak Center with orchestral favorites
Who: The Colorado Springs Philharmonic, pianist Sue Grace and conductor Joseph Caballé-Domenech
When: 2:30 p.m. today
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $29-$59; 520-7469; pikespeakcenter.com
Something Else: Today's concert is sold out so those without tickets had best arrive early to compete for whatever seats becomes available.
Next: "Appalachian Spring" "Vanguard Performance" written and conducted by Thomas Wilson at 8 p.m. Feb. 9.
After a wait of well over two months, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic was back to its artistic bread and butter on Saturday night with "Wagner and Beethoven." The sold-out Pikes Peak Center house was clearly excited but the music would just have to wait a little longer.
Communications director Nathan Willers took the stage and with the help of a nicely produced video, introduced the 2013-2014 season. While not as diverse as the current season, there are some musical moments ready to be relished.
The season opens with the former music director Christopher Wilkins at the helm for Copland and Beethoven. Music director Josep Caballé-Domenech leads four of the seven Masterworks concerts, bringing us Mahler's 4th Symphony, Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" and the mammoth "Alpine Symphony" by Richard Strauss.
This evening's concert was all German and dramatically tuned in on the most potent 92 years in music history. Early Romanticism was touched upon first through Carl Maria von Weber's "Overture to Oberon" from 1826. The reading of this Shakespearian-inspired music was a delight. Thanks mostly to stalwart work from the orchestra's strings, the sound was transparent and spontaneous and filled with the call of nature. Conductor Caballé-Domenech elicited a great range of expression while keeping the sound fully under his control.
The seams came apart a bit in the next work, the Beethoven 4th Piano Concerto. Local piano diva Susan Grace was confronted with an unusually fast tempo in the opening Allegro Moderato and was at times overmatched by the composer's unrelenting demands. The orchestra was out of sync at times. As the movement wore on, the musical forces found their footing and by the time Grace encountered Beethoven's glorious cadenza, her solo playing was beautifully paced and poignant.
From there, the performance sparkled. The second movement dialogue between soloist and orchestra was marvelous to be behold - as revolutionary as when the composer cast it 1807. Now in complete command, Grace reveled in the rhythmic joy of the finale as Caballé-Domenech and the orchestra raced with her to an exuberant conclusion.
For me, it was the oldest work on the program with the smallest orchestral forces that was most impressive. For the first time with the philharmonic, Caballé-Domenech brought us Mozart - specifically the "Paris" Symphony from 1778 when the composer was all of 22 years old. Without baton, he inspired the orchestra with the most histrionic gestures I can ever recall seeing from at his podium. The result was Mozart the way it should be heard - rich, dynamic, ebullient and all with beautiful shaping.
The rest of the evening belonged to Richard Wagner as we celebrate the 200th birthday of the most overt musical innovator in history. The ranks of the orchestra swelled to capacity as extra strings, brass, winds and, for the first time in the evening, percussion filled the stage.
Nothing yet heard on this program could have prepared us for the melodic, harmonic orchestral sounds that this mid 19th-century revolutionary had in store for us. The "Overture and Bacchanale" from the opera "Tannäuser" is a musical universe unto itself. Starting with the gentle harmonies of the low winds, the philharmonic delivered an inspired musical ride that climaxed with an outright musical orgy. Caballé-Domenech refused to let his forces drop their intensity for an instant through this rollicking 20 minutes of music. Along the way we were treated to superb solo efforts from principal horn Matthew Scheffelmann, clarinetist Sergei Vassiliev, violinist Lydia Svyatlovskaya, cellist Jeffrey Watson and concertmaster Michael Hanson, who beautifully captured the spiritual heights of the composer's vision.
Leaving nothing to chance, the philharmonic made sure we hit the night air with their artistry reverberating in our footsteps thanks to a full-out reading of Wagner's most famous orchestral showpiece: "The Ride of the Valkyries" from the 1870 opera "Die Walküre."