Symphony showcases rewards of cultural influence
THE HONOLULU SYMPHONY, led by Jacques Lacombe and featuring violinist Karen Gomyo, presents a program of exoticism, virtuosity, individual suffering and irony.
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $22 to $73
Call: 792-2000 or Ticketmaster, (877) 750-4400
Maurice Ravel's "Alborada del Gracioso" (1912) and Edouard Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" (1874) portrayed exoticism with typical Spanish liveliness last night. Dmitri Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 5" (1937) embraced drama, satire and violence, creating a perfect contrast to Ravel's and Lalo's charming pieces.
"Influence" could be the theme pulling together the whole concert. Spanish influence, in the case of French composers Ravel and Lalo, both of Iberian descent. In the case of Shostakovich, it was the Soviet regime.
Lalo's piece is a concerto in five movements that requires incredible virtuosity from the violinist. Gomyo was up to the challenge, and her skills and expression progressed along with the movements. In the first movement, her high notes were full-bodied and strong. In the third, she added to her phrasing a more supple breath and an amazing dialogue between the lower and the higher-range voices. In the final movement she emphasized Spanish flair, catchy tunes and dazzling technical skills, to the delight of the audience.
Ravel's short piece, originally for piano, belongs to a collection called "Miroirs." The fluctuating harmonies and the flamenco rhythms made its Spanish flavor.
The majestic Fifth Symphony, however, brought the audience to intense attention. There are so many things to listen to, it is one of those complex pieces that, if performed well, gives you the satisfaction of understanding what is going on.
Lacombe was there to help. His refined and ingenious interpretation of the score allowed the musicians to make all of Shostakovich's musical and political statements. Identified as a reflection of the Socialist Realist program during the Stalinist era, this piece is rather the composer's satire of the regime.
In the first few minutes, the eight-note unforgettable motive set the pace. Suddenly interrupted by a two-note tympani fragment sometimes called "the Stalin theme," it immediately showed a tragic character.
J. Scott Janusch's oboe solos were poignant. The fragment is reworked throughout the symphony with passion, violence, sadness and calm. The orchestra made every instance a great opportunity for us to feel knowledgeable.
Ignace Jang's solo violin was mesmerizing in the second movement, while in the highly dramatic third movement a lyrical theme passed through the woodwind and featured flautist Susan McGinn's wonderful phrasing.
Although the composer called it "forced," the rejoicing of the finale, with screeching strings and triumphal brass, crashed into the end. Fortunately, the encore, a "Polka" by Shostakovich, brought us back to a lighter mood.
Valeria Wenderoth has a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.