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Soloist, conductor skillful at Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra opening

Oct. 3, 2009

The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra opened its 43rd season with a trio of diverse compositions played much to the delight of the audience that filled Appleton’s Fox Cities Performing Art Center on Saturday night.

As a bonus, Wisconsin Public Radio personality Jim Fleming offered introductory notes before each piece. His insightful comments were most appreciated.

The concert opened with Aaron Copland’s perennial favorite, "Fanfare for the Common Man" performed by the brass and percussion sections. The fanfare was well-played, allowing its broad emotional gestures to sound forth with certainty.

Frederic Chopin's alluring, and somewhat unconventional, Piano Concerto in e minor was next on the program. While demanding of the soloist, the orchestra’s role is unquestionably minor in that it used almost exclusively in an accompanimental manner. Lacking the usual juxtaposition of roles between soloist and orchestra, this work demands an intuitive interpretation of the soloist, one filled with perception and intellect, in addition to a technical command of the instrument.

Michael Kim proved to be one such performer. His grasp of the three contrasting movements was both stimulating and rewarding.

What impressed me with his playing was that it was fluid and with much expression; controlled, yet free. One of the demanding aspects of this concerto is that the soloist must constantly play to the fore, as the orchestra offers little, if any, relief.

This proved not to be a hindrance for Kim. His voicing of Chopin’s passages were always above the orchestra’s accompaniment. I was also taken with his sense of improvisatory elegance, applied especially in the first two movements.

In the final movement, Kim showed his technical skills through Chopin’s rapid scales and musical gestures. It was a well-defined and musically satisfying performance. As an encore, Mr. Kim performed Schumann's famous "Traumerei."

The most common measuring stick of any conductor and orchestra invariably tends to be the performance of the collected symphonies of Beethoven. It is the one body of work that is so easily identifiable, yet each with its differing character.

One symphony that stands apart from the others is his third in e-flat major, commonly known as "Eroica." This work requires a vision of the work in its entirety from the conductor.

I have written before about Maestro Brian Groner's mastery of the large symphonic form, and once again he has proven it with his interpretation of "Eroica."

Right away, I was taken with the bright tempo he chose for the opening; crisp and focused. The orchestra responded with even playing. Of note was the clarity and precision in the winds.

The "funeral march" proved to be the perfect contrast to the opening Allegro. Departing from the somberness of the march, Groner brought out a brightness in the trio, and then handled the fugal passage with ease.

The final movements, Scherzo and Theme with Variations, were directed with precision. Groner was up to the challenge of this masterful symphony.

In all, a wonderful start to the new season.

- James Chaudoir • Special to The Post-Crescent

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