Review: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's Chamber Classic Series, All-Schubert Concert
A couple of times a season, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra reprises certain works in their Chamber Classics Series at the Bijou from earlier performances with the full orchestra at the Tennessee Theater. For those of us who get to hear both, the experience is generally positive and enlightening in ways both musical and acoustical. As example of this, Sunday's All-Schubert concert returned the Symphony No. 8 in B-minor ("Unfinished") and the Overture in D Major from the April Masterworks concert, and opened the concert with the expansive and seductively diverse Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat.
The advantages of reprising works, of course, are quite obvious. The smaller Chamber Orchestra performing in the Bijou offers a completely different balance between woodwinds and strings. For works that have a substantial woodwind presence, this can certainly reveal a different textural perspective. Given the notable quality of the KSO woodwind players, this is, most definitely, a good thing. Of course, too, the Bijou and the Tennessee are both acoustic gems, but in their own distinctive ways. The Bijou offers a crystalline brightness without being tinny--a presence that seems almost magical. But, it lacks the distinctive boost of bass resonance of the larger Tennessee. Overall, the balance and clarity in the Bijou is probably closer to what modern ears expect from a high quality studio recording.
Enter Franz Schubert and his "Unfinished" Symphony. Based on the two hearings now, one can only conclude that Maestro Lucas Richman has a great affinity for this work. There are currently 185 or so recordings of the "Unfinished" from every major orchestra in the world, from almost every notable conductor, offering every possible subtle combination of tempo and dynamics. One would be hard-pressed, though, to find a better overall or more satisfying performance than Sunday's. The Allegro movement's opening theme in the violins was nicely paced and tight, while still maintaining that satisfying mystery. In the Andante movement, that nice woodwind balance was used to savory advantage.
After giving the audience a vote on the order of the second half of the program, Richman ended the concert with Schubert's Overture in D Major ("In the Italian Style"). Preceding that uplifting and happy bang-bang finale are some intricate and fast passages that border on the unrestrained for the woodwinds. Again, every seat in the Bijou got to hear the woodwinds as they danced, bantered, raced, and flirted quite impressively.
The concert opened with the Schubert Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat featuring Kevin Class, piano; Gabriel Lefkowitz, violin; and Andy Bryenton, cello. While the length of the work--45 minutes--may appear intimidating to first time listeners, the players seemed to handle the wonderful and contrasting moods of the piece nicely, using them to sustain interest through ebb and flow, as instruments stepped forward dramatically then receded into the background. Not surprising, almost everything was technically in place; what was surprising were the bursts of textural emotion that pushed that ebb and flow and kept the energy and excitement at a higher level. Fans of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon are inevitably transported by the well-known, and cinematically suggestive, theme of the second movement introduced by the cello. I certainly was.