BWW Review: JEFFREY KAHANE PLAYS AND CONDUCTS AT SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY Jacobs Music Center
The San Diego Symphony's season continued this past weekend with guest pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane. He opened at the piano in front of an orchestra reduced to half its usual size for Mozart's 27th piano concerto. After intermission there were roughly twice as many musicians for Samuel Barber's tone poem Music for a Scene from Shelley and Schumann's third symphony, the "Rhenish." Regardless of orchestra size or whether from the piano or podium, Kahane conducted with smooth sweeping gestures, and the orchestra responded well with clear section balances and attention to detail.
The program tapped three stylistically different musical eras-classical, romantic and modern. Mozart's concerto, his last, was written in 1791. Like all his concertos, it demands clean precise articulation from soloist and orchestra, and close cooperation between the two. Kahane succeeded as both soloist and conductor. His keyboard runs were a swift silvery stream, and he led a performance that captured the work's varied emotions from bubbling happiness to profound emotion.
The concerto came in the last year of Mozart's life. Samuel Barber wrote the School for Scandal overture, his first piece for full orchestra, at 21 while completing studies at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute. It is an exhilarating romp, still often programmed. Music for a Scene from Shelley, written less than two years later in 1933, hasn't had the same success. Kahane led a well-played performance, molding tempos and dynamics to make a good case for the piece's roughly nine-minute arc from quiet mystery to a dark-angst climax and back. But, in spite of competent construction, the work is less engaging than the even more youthful overture.
A minor bobble at an entry by French horns in a quieter section of the Barber was redeemed a thousand-fold when Kahane turned them loose for a satisfying and brassier than usual interpretation of Schuman's heroic 3rd symphony (1850). As the audience applauded the performance, the conductor expressed his satisfaction with the horns by asking them to stand first, and the crowd noisily concurred. First-chair Benjamin Jaber was very good when first hired by Jahja Ling. In the ensuing years he's gotten even better. I'm beginning to suspect he has developed a third lung.
Much remains in the San Diego Symphony's current season. Visit here for a schedule of upcoming concerts.
Jeffrey Kahane and Benjamin Jaber photos courtesy of San Diego Symphony. Full symphony orchestra with Maestro Kahane by Ron Bierman