Last night Colorado Symphony Orchestra began their Rachmaninoff Festival to a nearly full house at Boettcher Concert Hall. With two weekends of the superb piano performances by award winning Olga Kern and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jeffery Kahane, Denver classical music lovers will be treated to the full range of Rachmaninoff music. The first night certainly set the stage for a great festival of music.
The opening night of the Rachmaninoff Festival began with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony Chorus (under the direction of the Chorus Founder Duain Wolfe) and Three Russian Songs for Chorus and Orchestra. The gentle beginning immediately established a Russian feel to the evening, with soft but dark music from the orchestra. The Colorado Symphony Chorus did an excellent job of providing emotional depth with excellent diction. Even when they were brought down to a mezzo-piano in the third song there was an astonishing sense of power to the chorus. In the second of three songs both the chorus and orchestra supplied ample swells to give the piece a poignant Russian landscape.
Olga Kern on the piano was featured in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1. He had written this piece before he graduated from the conservatory. While it is not the composer's most melodic or memorable music, it certainly shows his understanding of the range of both orchestra and piano. Ms Kern played the Steinway with an intensity and veracity that shows why she won the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2001; she is one of the most remarkable pianists of our age. Her performance was filled with emotion - taking moments when the music needed it but never a moment more. The grace at which she played the slow sections was ballet-like, yet the power and sound she was able to hammer out of the Steinway was phenomenal. The cadenza in the first movement was simply amazing! Tender moments in the Andante cantabile danced through the hall expressing the full range of emotion. The final Allegro scherzando showed Ms Kern’s ability to play beyond the speed of light, yet still provide the occasional comical touch as the music required. After the piece thundered to a close the audience offered no hesitation in showing their appreciation standing throughout the hall.
The second half of the concert provided numerous opportunities for the incredible Colorado Symphony players to be highlighted. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 first movement begins with a delicate horn and clarinet duet by Michael Thornton and Bil Jackson. The cello section is featured with a lovely melodic section. Peter Cooper on Oboe and Justin Bartels on Trumpet were also featured. The full orchestra filled the hall with everything from fragile whispers to deafening crescendos. The second movement was lighter again featuring the horn, but this time with Courtney Hershey Bress on Harp. Pamela Endsley on flute followed with a beautifully rich moment and then Andrew Stevens was featured on the Bass Clarinet. The piece continued to transform the evening with a variety of colors and textures as Jason Lichtenwalter added a moment of solo English Horn. Associate Concertmaster Claude Sim was also featured with numerous beautiful violin solos.
While the concert may have been billed as featuring Olga Kern – and she was certainly a wonder to hear – the concert was really a collection of great moments, brilliant colors with everything from the Colorado Symphony Chorus to the vast number of world class musicians in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It was great to see Olga Kern perform the first in a series of what will undoubtedly be incredible performances. But staying to hear the various star performers in the orchestra really captured the spirit of the Rachmaninoff Festival – great music and great performers.
Rachmaninoff Festival Continues: Tonight and Sunday (October 17 & 18) Piano Concerto No 3. The Isle of the Dead Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Next Friday (October 24) Piano Concerto No. 4 Symphonic Dances Saturday and Sunday (October 25 & 25) “Alleluia” from All Night Vigil The Bells Piano Concerto No 2
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