André Watts (pictured), a pianist with an illustrious career, joined Jeffery Kahane and the Colorado Symphony for a powerhouse performance of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. In a concert of Romantic Nationalistic music, Mr Watts showed he can bring out all the nuances of the florid romantic music and command attention through even the most robust orchestral moments.
The first half of the concert was filled with wonderful romantic music which tugs at the nationalist hearts from various parts of Europe. Smetata’s Vltava (The Moldau) with its programmatic journey along the Moldau river was magical as a concert opener. The woodwinds begin the journey, but there are plenty of moments for the brass, strings and percussion to shine as well. As the piece closes with light strings to soften the mood, we are prepared for Sibelius’ Finlandia, and the famous opening with brilliant trombone. The cellos gave a marvelous performance of the sweeping melody.
Two more Sibelius’ pieces concluded the first half, both from his Opus 22, Four Legends of the Kalevala. While principal Cellist Silver Ainomäe was not playing in the orchestra, he did treat the audience with a sampling of some old Finish poetry from the Kalevala. The first selection, “The Swan of Tuonela” begins with the ominous cellos and doublebasses but quickly moves into the upper strings. However the highlight of the work was the sumptuous English Horn solo by Jason Lichtenwalter which wafts throughout. “Lemminkäinen’s Returrn” closed the first half with a brass, brilliant romp. The brass got another work out earning their keep for the night.
The overall performance of this rich romantic music was good, but somewhat tame. It felt as if Colorado Symphony was recording for a generic classic CD collection rather than really getting into the grit and angular moments of the music. While there were moments of sheer delight, t points where individuals and sections gave outstanding performances felted watered down when taken as a whole. Still, the first have was fun and well appreciated by the audience.
The second half really came alive with the dynamic performance by André Watts. From the famous opening descending chords in Grieg’s Piano Concert in A minor, to the playful dance of the 3rd movement, Watts command the attention every moment of the way. There are times during the piece that the orchestra is pounding away giving no quarter for the piano and yet Watts was able to overcome the onslaught. His performance and the piano line were always at the forefront, not an easy feat against ninety musicians playing full bore.
Mr Watts also had tender moments too, showing the full depth of the pianos dynamic range and his command of the instrument. In the second movement the French Horn, played beautifully by Kirstin Jurkscheit, tenderly called to the piano. It was if Watts and Jurkschiet had performed this piece together for years, as his response was idealic.
The audience kept applauding in hopes Mr Watts might perform an encore. It didn’t happen, but he was called back on stage three times and even then the audience wasn’t sure they were willing to give up. Another stellar performance for Mr Watts.