Concert review: Sonic explosions close DSSO's season

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's season came to a close Saturday night at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Symphony Hall with a variety of musical pyrotechnics making up the "Now and Then" program celebrating the organization's 85th anniversary.

The whole orchestra was all in at the beginning of Dominick Argento's "Valentino Dances," which set up a dazzling accordion cadenza by Dee Langley. Then the orchestra launched in a sultry tango that took a romantic turn. It made me wonder if Argento was secretly scoring one of Rudolph Valentino's silent films. The dramatic conclusion was certainly worthy of dancing your partner across the terrazzo.

A short film celebrating the DSSO's history was shown, with the audience applauding conductor Dirk Meyer's mention of the five-year contract keeping him in town.

For his latest return to Duluth, pianist Alexander Korsantia tackled Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, emphasizing the composer's sense of playfulness with the music in the first movement and showcasing his signature strength of finding the sweet spot to be heard playing against the orchestra.

The second movement larghetto was one of the evening's highlights, with a captivating sequence with Korsantia playing notes as fragile as glass. Another sequence of runs up and down the keyboard had the notes fading away at the end of each pass. The orchestra followed suit as the music beautifully faded away to the final note.

Immediately the final movement began, with Korsantia unleashing the full power of his playing. At one point I was reminded of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, which makes perfect sense since Korsantia played it at the start of the DSSO's 2015 season.

Korsantia and Meyer embraced in a bear hug and the audience was on its feet before the pianist had turned around from shaking hands with orchestra members. Presented with a bouquet of flowers, Korsantia gallantly gave them to one of the violinists before bowing repeatedly to the orchestra.

If Korsantia is not back again in the near future, I will not be the only one who will be totally surprised and bitterly disappointed.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 has the distinction of being the first DSSO piece back in 1933. The horns and bassoons introduced the theme of "Fate." As an audio-visual treat, the WDSE broadcast of the concert was projected on both sides of Symphony Hall. The timing was spot on, but when the camera made Meyer BFG size it was hard not to follow the constant motion of his giant floating hands.

A moody melody by Darci Gamerl's oboe began the second movement. Later Claudia White's flute soared around and above the music. The theme passed from clarinet to oboe to flute before taken over by Michael Roemhildt's bassoon in a beautiful passage.

The scherzo was truly precocious. The strings play pizzicato throughout. The oboe and flute take over for the woodwinds and then the brass have their turn, playing staccato, before another string section. Tchaikovsky plays the strings against the woodwinds and then has the brass and timpani join in before the movement ends as it began, quietly with pizzicato strings.

Then the final movement exploded. Tchaikovsky has no rival when it comes to music making you hear fireworks. The symphony ended in rhythmic overdrive which compelled the entire audience to erupt into applause the second the last note detonated.

Lawrance Bernabo, Duluth News Tribune
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