Echoes of Eastern Europe (Review by KC Metropolis)

By Lee Hartman Tue, Oct 14, 2014
From KC Metropolis

With a subtler program than usual, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra, under the direction of Christopher Kelts, brought the sounds of Bohemia and Jewish culture to Atonement Lutheran Church on Saturday evening.

The minor mode and a prevailing sense of melancholy embodied the Kansas City Civic Orchestra’s opening concert of its 56th season, but fine communal playing kept a metaphorical light shining through the proceedings.

Bedřich Smetana’s nationalist “Moldau” from Ma Vlast opened the concert. The programmatic work traces the Moldau river from its source in the mountains, through the Czech countryside and forests, over rapids, past a wedding feast, and through the city of Prague. From the burbling flutes to thunderous percussion the piece is wonderfully evocative. The opening flute line wasn’t as seamless as it needed to be because it was evident which player was playing at which time. However, the strings on their main theme were warm and rich. The rapids section lacked some of the required drama. The final section was well balanced and grand though.

The Overture on Jewish Themes by Sergey Prokofiev was a strange-yet-delightful, unfamiliar work. The clarinets were superb in their filtered-through-Prokofiev’s-pen Klezmer lines. Prokofiev model of toccata, melody, and invention were in equal partnership with the Jewish source material. My only complaint is the entire piece lacked an upper dynamic—a rarity for community ensembles! The softs were beautiful (and the addition of the piano gave some extra body) but the louds were understated for Prokofiev.

Hyerim Jeon, Cellist

Cellist Hyerim Jeon stepped in last minute to solo on Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. The pair of Hebrew melodies for obbligato cello and orchestra is an exercise in lyricism. I often refer to Bruch as “Brahms with exoticism” because the harmonies are dark and rich with emphasis on low timbres. The bassoons got carried away with this predisposition and at times overpowered. Jeon is a capable, expressive player, but the lack of rehearsal time showed as the soloist and orchestra seemed unwilling to budge in their perceived interpretation of the work making Jeon perform more rigidly than desired.

Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 closed the program in fine fashion despite a few wrong notes and intonation slips. The woodwinds, especially the oboes, played the second movement wonderfully with clear lines, delicate articulations, and appropriate style. The brass tonguing also was commendable. Conductor Christopher Kelts emphasized the dramatic mercurial shifts of the piece, including the odd coda of the third movement and the insanely fun horn line in the final movement.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra
Echoes of Eastern Europe

Saturday, October 11, 2014
Atonement Lutheran Church
9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS