Moscow State Symphony offers satisfying concert at the Kravis Center

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
Palm Beach Daily News

By Joseph Youngblood

The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra visited the Kravis Center Wednesday and awed the audience with its virtuosity and artistry.

Led by Pavel Kogan, with piano soloist Jeremy Denk, the orchestra presented Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 by Felix Mendelssohn; Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16 by Sergei Prokofiev; and La Valse by Maurice Ravel.

The orchestra was large with eight double basses. With the exception of the percussion, all of the players were on the floor; risers were not used for the winds. Yet the balance between the strings and the winds was not diminished by this, and wind solos were easily heard.

The program opened with Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony. The sensitivity of the orchestra to dynamics can be heard in the opening wind passage with small crescendos to bring out the phrasing. An opening unison passage for the strings showed them to be both warm and perfectly in tune. The conductor found and brought out the melody in every measure. The second movement was delicate and precise, though a bit on the brisk side. The opening clarinet solo was accurate, if a bit edgy.

The wind choir again shined at the second theme of the adagio, and the warm unison violins returned toward the end. The finale followed without pause, an energetic movement that swept the listeners along.

The orchestra provided a sensitive accompaniment to the Prokofiev concerto, though the performance was all about the pianist. Denk’s full piano tone was apparent from the opening bars. The piano part became progressively more complex as it went along, yet Denk made it look easy. He was clearly in complete control of the tone and the dynamics of the piano. The cadenza was so elaborate that was hard to believe that it was just one player. If the first movement was defined by grand sweeps, the second featured boundless energy; in fact, the piano appeared never to stop.

The intermezzo was like a sardonic march for the dead, propelled by the lower winds. The finale opened with a tight unison between the piano and the orchestra. The coordination between the piano and the orchestra was especially impressive here. The long cadenza gave the impression of a complex chorale elaboration. It was a marvelous performance of a very exciting piece.

La Valse is an exhilarating, full-throated, energetic score. All the instruments are heard from the opening bassoons to the rogue piccolo. Maestro Kogan kept the work in check, even though it tried to escape his control.

The audience was on its feet before the final note and was rewarded with two encores, both by Fritz Kreisler: Marche miniature Viennoise and Syncopation.

Many fine orchestras come to the stage of the Kravis Center. Few, however, combine impeccable playing with satisfying programming, as does the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. We were uplifted by the performance, and look forward to the orchestra’s return.