Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, January 11, 1999

Parker plays it
straight, mostly

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

The Honolulu Symphony: Featuring Jon Kimura Parker. Repeats at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets $15-$50. Call 538-8863.

Pianist Jon "Jackie" Kimura Parker, "wild man of the cadenza," behaved himself with the Honolulu Symphony on Sunday. At least, for the most part.

He wore no odd costumes, but neither did he wear standard concert attire. Instead, he opted for a casual black vest over dark grey shirt, accented by a flaming red handkerchief for mopping his brow. The piece he performed, Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No.1, Opus 25, unfortunately allows no cadenza for improvising: Parker was limited to taking a few liberties with solo tempos.

But Parker's eccentricities triumphed in the end. He introduced his encore "for some of the younger members of the audience, who will recognize this, if their taste in television is as bad as mine," and launched into a jazzy version of Danny Elfman's theme for "The Simpsons." Those younger members burst out laughing in appreciation.

Mendelssohn's Concerto was, as Parker predicted, the "perfect foil for Mahler." It was short, light, and filled with the effervescence for which Mendelssohn is famous. Parker delivered a virtuosic performance with a rich tone in his more lyrical solos. His transition into the second movement was exquisite and his ending thrilling.

The concert's focal point was Gustav Mahler's symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth). Although long (it lasts about an hour) and aurally demanding, it is a magnificent work and includes, as conductor Samuel Wong unequivocally states, "some of the most exquisitely beautiful music ever written for symphony orchestra."

Mahler's cycle is largely vocal in syntax and replete with tone-painting, which make the words critical for understanding. Fortunately, not only were text and translation provided, but most importantly -- the singers were outstanding.

Mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar has a rich, beautifully modulated voice throughout her range and superb tone quality. Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, himself a large man, has an even larger voice of exceptional quality, timbre, and range and excellent German enunciation, as well

Despite the singers' strong voices, Mahler's large orchestra overpowered them from time to time, which might have been alleviated by moving them closer to the front of the stage.

Mahler's transparent orchestration affords numerous great solos and, a few exposed slips notwithstanding, the orchestra performed masterfully. Mahler's final heart-wrenching farewell, with its fading "ewig ... ewig" (forever ... forever), continued to echo mentally long after the music had ended

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