Stern leads symphony in precise, colorful concert

02.21.10
Emmanuel Pahud
The Kansas City Star

By Timothy McDonald

You can tell when Kansas City Symphony music director Michael Stern is back in town. When Stern takes command of the orchestra, you can hear it and feel it in the sound.

Friday night’s concert at the Lyric Theatre was a case in point. From the opening upward sweep in the violins during the first measures of Rossini’s “Overture to ‘La scala di seta,’ ” you could tell from the precision that Stern had rehearsed them.

The remainder of the work was delightful, with satisfying crescendos and a striking sense of ensemble. Oboist Mingjia Liu and flutist Michael Gordon were particularly impressive with their solo lines.

Stern and the Symphony served up Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 8 in F Major” with an extra dose of vigor and excitement. The opening movement was noteworthy for the musical contrast between the joyful opening melody and the dancelike second theme.

The sprightly second movement was followed by the minuet with a pronounced Austro-German bounce. The finale seemed infused with a sort of primal energy but also exhibited some finely nuanced detail.

Friday’s concert was the premiere of Italian composer Luca Lombardi’s “Concerto in E for Flute and Orchestra,” commissioned by the Symphony with a grant from the Miller Nichols Charitable Foundation.

Flutist Emmanuel Pahud performed virtuosic runs with aplomb, but at times the concerto seemed pointillistic, as in the opening, with a three-note flute figure echoed by the strings.

Lombardi’s music was tonal and filled with all sorts of fascinating colors and creative instrumental techniques.

In the final movement, the audience started applauding after final percussive orchestral chords. Pahud had the last laugh, however, with a breathy final flourish.

The flutist encored with an excerpt from Bizet’s “Carmen,” displaying marvelous tone, particularly in the beautiful opening section with harpist Deborah Wells Clark.

A dramatic and exciting rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca di Rimini” concluded the evening.