KURTÁg and mozart
What: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with pianist Jonathan Biss.
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $10-$40, 651-291-1144 or www.thespco.org
SPCO mixes old and new with distinction
- Article by: WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD
- Special to the Star Tribune
- October 7, 2011 - 11:22 AM
Contemporary Hungarian composer György Kurtag was unknown to me before this week's St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts at Ordway Center. American pianist Jonathan Biss brought to the SPCO the idea of pairing two of Kurtag's chamber works with two piano concertos by Mozart.
Biss opened the concert with selections from "Jatékok" ("Games"), a work for solo piano now in eight volumes that Kurtag is still composing. These are fragmentary pieces (six taking barely 11 minutes) and Biss found the playfulness of the light movements, while expressing the haunting tonalities of the emotionally resonant ones. His hands seemed to float delicately over the keys.
As this piece concluded, concertmaster Steven Copes immediately gave the downbeat for the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453. Biss' technique was even more striking here, his playing virtuosic (his cadenza in the first movement, particularly theatrical), but never showy. The piano intertwined with the graceful sounds of the orchestra, as if all were equals playing chamber music.
His performance was confident, even audacious, stretching the opening theme of the Adagio almost to the breaking point. One can imagine the mischievous Mozart enjoying Biss' magical rendering of the spritely variations in the finale.
As the final work, Biss played the Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271, arguably Mozart's first mature masterpiece. Where the winds figured prominently in the first concerto, the horns were featured here, the orchestra sounding especially crisp.
Biss played more forcefully, in the flashy arpeggios at the end of the first movement, and especially in the dark, minor-key Andantino, making the piano sing with operatic passion. He brought the evening to a close with a brilliant reading of the strikingly original rondo .
The program also featured Kurtag's "Hommage à Mihaly Andras (12 Microludes for String Quartet)," Op. 13, featuring violinists Sunmi Chang and Nina Tso-Ning Fan, violist Maiya Papach and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan.
From the dark, discordant opening to hymn-like moments to clashing atonalities, the brief movements created a kaleidoscope. The performance was emotionally engaging and technically controlled.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer
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