“We have intimate audiences in March,” joked Louisville Orchestra CEO from the stage before last night’s concert. The several hundred of us gathered in Whitney Hall chuckled as we looked at the too-many empty seats scattered through the room. Sadly, the arts in contemporary America do not compete with allure of the arena. But, those who did attend last evening’s Hilliard Lyons Classics concert experienced one of the nation’s top orchestras at its best.
|Pianist Seung-Un Ha|
Last night’s program opened with music director Jorge Mester and the Orchestra accompanying soloist Seung-Un Ha in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. With this work and his concerto in F minor (composed the previous year) Chopin re-created the genre that had lain nearly dormant since Beethoven’s final piano concerto had been finalized more than two decades before. Chopin was a pianist-composer and as Mester pointed out during his pre-concert conversation the soloist could easily perform this work without benefit of an orchestra and you would never notice. As soloist for last evening’s performance, pianist Seung-Un Ha was absolutely mesmerizing. Chopin premiered this work himself in October, 1830 and created it as a vehicle for his own virtuosity. As a performer Seung-Un Ha is often described as an amalgam of silk and sinew. This is an apt description of her style which combines fluidity and precision with brilliant musicality. While I am in general a fan of the invisible performer who allows the music to take center stage I was fascinated by the added dimension created by the choreography in Seung-Un Ha’s subtle, balletic hand gestures as the moved across the keyboard. Despite the criticisms of Chopin’s orchestration, maestro Mester coaxed a gorgeous accompaniment from the players who engaged this work and brought its full potential to light.
If the first part of the program gave the Orchestra little to do, Mester more than made up for it after the interval with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65. This is an organic plume of music that explodes with fortissimo octaves stylistically reminiscent of Beethoven’s C minor symphony (No. 5). Shostakovich famously wrote on multiple levels to appease the authoritarian Soviet regime while conveying the pain of repression felt by the Russian people. Subsequent to its 1943 premiere an unknown author affixed this interpretation to the first movement: