Chi brings the house down

KATHERINE Chi made a triumphant return to the stage of our Community Auditorium in the third Masterworks Concert of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO).

Her performance of Grieg's A minor piano concerto was the high light of the concert, and I will get to it in just a bit.
The program opened with Gluck's Overture to his opera Alceste. It is a sombre and yet airy piece, full of forbidding themes that would play out in the opera.

Guest conductor Leslie Dala led the TBSO with careful pacing and clear focus.

Next we heard the Grieg A minor piano concerto. There are a half-dozen well known, frequently performed, fully orchestrated piano concertos. This one is right up near the top of those (together with Tchaikovsky and Beethoven) and our TBSO programs it every few years because it is a certain crowd pleaser.

These great piano concertos, because they are familiar to our ears and readily engage our emotions, can seem simple or old fashioned when we hear them. But, matched to the right orchestra and conductor, they become fresh, alive and vibrant.

Add a superior soloist and the music will move you profoundly. That is what Katherine Chi, conductor Leslie Dala and our TBSO musicians did on Thursday evening.

Grieg's concerto, structured in three movements, is rich in themes and dense in layered, chromatic chords.
Opening with a powerful timpani roll (brilliantly controlled by Jean Francois-Breton, percussionist) Chi dived into the dramatic first movement with vigour and passion.

Chi knows this piece inside and out and her attention to both power and delicacy was superb. The extended soloist section in the first movement was truly amazing to watch and hear.
In the second, adagio movement, her lilting introduction seemed like gently dropping water into pool at our feet. Conductor Dali found a near perfect balance between orchestra and the soloist so that they supported and complemented each other - a rare achievement.

And all of our TBSO musicians shone brightly in the piece, particularly Jean Francois-Breton, Marie Klazek (trumpet), Peter Shackleton (clarinet), and Penelope Clarke (flute). Ms. Clarke's introduction of the final theme in the third movement was sublime.

At the conclusion of the concerto, Chi was called back to the stage three times for applause.

The programme concluded with Robert Schuman's Symphony No. 2. Despite conductor Dala's high regard for the symphony in his introductory remarks, the work remains of only modest interest, to me. The first movement is difficult to follow in structure.

The second and third become more accessible and the fourth, concluding movement is resoundingly joyful. Dala brought out all the colours and challennges in Schumann's orchestration. And our TBSO musicians, as usual, performed to their very high standard.

But it is the superb performances that all of them, collectively, gave us in the Grieg piano concerto that will be my lasting memory.

MICHAEL SOBOTA, The Chronicle Journal
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