SLSO, Stare and Hough triumph in Friday concert

Ward Stare
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Sarah Bryan Miller

For the penultimate concerts of the 2010-2011 season, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra brought together a rising star and an established one for a satisfying musical whole.

SLSO resident conductor Ward Stare was clearly a phenomenal talent when he arrived here in 2008, but he has continued to mature and to refine his art to an impressive level. Stephen Hough - pianist, composer, MacArthur Fellow and author - is one of the finest exponents of the keyboard in our time.

Put the two of them together with this orchestra, and the results, heard at Friday morning's coffee concert, were outstanding.

Hough's vehicle was Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major. The first movement demands a big sound, and Hough provided it. His initial solo passage was a touch messy, but otherwise he was technically astounding in a hugely challenging work, his fingers a blur in the fast passages. Hough's energy never flagged, and neither did his commitment.

The second movement, Andante non troppo, brought extensive solo work for concertmaster David Halen and principal cello Daniel Lee. With Hough, they offered thoughtful, beautiful chamber music in the midst of a major orchestra work. The final movement is back to big - Allegro con fuoco - and Hough provided the fire demanded by the score, blazing along the keys.

Stare was assured and absolutely in charge throughout, collaborating with his soloist and with the orchestra. The musicians were in top form throughout the piece and across sections.

There was more fire to come in the second half, with Alexander Scriabin's passionate but rarely heard Symphony No. 2 in C minor. It had been performed by the SLSO only once before, in 1969.

The mystically minded Scriabin believed that particular keys represented particular colors, and he saw red in C, both major and minor. This is lush, supremely ardent, over-the-top Romantic music that almost scorched the ear in some passages. Scriabin comes off in many places as a Russian Richard Wagner, writing endless melodies and imaginative harmonies to fill the symphony's 40 minutes.

Although it has its lyrical moments, the second symphony is primarily a work dominated by big brass and busy strings. Happily, the SLSO's wind and brass players were in almost uniformly excellent voice. (And it's always good to see retired principal trumpet Susan Slaughter back in her old section.) The Friday morning audience responded enthusiastically.

Stare had the measure of the work, conducted with confidence and brought it through triumphantly. He is clearly a talent on his way up.