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Kalmar, Grant Park Orchestra open summer concert season in worthy style

06.15.17
Andrew von Oeyen
Chicago Classical Review

Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos is not exactly the most profound work ever written. Its hectic joie de vivre makes Saint-Saens seem like Max Reger and there’s more than a hint of the magpie in Poulenc’s themes. The shades of Mozart and Ravel hover close by, especially the Adagio of Ravel’s Concerto in G , which was premiered the same year Poulenc wrote this work.
 
Still, it’s an undeniably likable concerto and soloists Andrew von Oeyen and Fabio Bidini put across the breezy boulevardier esprit with great virtuosity and panache. Considering the lack of rehearsal, the two pianists played and echoed each others’ phrases as one. They threw off the silent-movie chase of the opening movement, brought refined elegance to the Larghetto, and displayed fine wit in the galumphing finale with its sudden throwaway coda. Kalmar and the orchestra provided alert and vital support.
 
Wednesday’s performance of the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition required more forbearance. The lack of rehearsal time was manifest in the wobbly trumpet solo in the opening Promenade, a shaky tuba in “Bydlo,” dicey muted trumpet for Schmuyle, and a tentative “Tuileries.”
 
It’s a testament to Kalmar and the professionalism of the orchestra that this challenging showpiece still came off reasonably well with most of the portraits vividly characterized and solidly played.

Read the rest of the review here