Mozart and Manfred

Manfred being saved by the hunter

Last Friday, UW’s University Symphony gave a lively performance in Meany Hall. The orchestra began their concert with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491 featuring one of my favorite pianists: Craig Sheppard. I’ve been a fan of Sheppard’s since I heard his live recordings of the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas – all of the sonatas were performed and recorded chronologically over sixteen months in 2003 and 2004. In his recordings, Sheppard engages the listener by exploring the composer’s journey through the music and creating a separate journey of his own. The same explorative qualities that make his recordings so wonderful materialized in concert last Friday.

The first movement of the Mozart was elegant and delicate, and it really showcased the excellent communication between Sheppard, the conductor and the students. From the beginning, Sheppard became an artistic extension of the orchestra rather than a stand-alone soloist with accompaniment. The second movement was musically touching. The dramatic dynamics and the acoustics of the hall really enhanced the passion of the movement. Sheppard’s light touch kept the audience attentive and hanging on his every note. In the third movement, the orchestra brought out the subtleties of the music and afforded Sheppard the opportunity to express his musical creativity. Again, the communication between the orchestra and Sheppard created a dynamic of true professionalism and elevated awareness that is not often seen in concerto performances. As Sheppard and the orchestra went back and forth in the final movement with flourishes and themes in the set of variations, the brilliance of the performance was second only to the beautiful music being created.

The other piece on the program was Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony The final movement of the symphony opened with a bold brass fanfare. They announced the coming of the end, and the strong lower voice in the tuba put a seal on Manfred’s fate. The fugue was executed very well and the confident, broad chords that followed were very powerful and symbolic of Manfred’s hellish affairs. As Astarte materialized as a spirit, the harps began their beautiful feature. The heavenly quality of grace and forgiveness that Astarte bestowed on Manfred rang true in the harpists’ performance. The movement ends with chords of hope as Manfred passes on, with the woodwinds sounding his final moment of peace. Overall: a fantastic performance! I look forward to hearing more from the orchestra this year, particularly their “side-by-side” concert of Ein Heldenleben,

which will include members of the Seattle Symphony, on February 23, 2010.

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