Jahja Ling, Jon Kimura Parker and the SD Symphony in sync
REVIEW | 5.04.2012 | by James Chute | San Diego Union-Tribune
File this one under the category marked: nailed it.
San Diego Symphony music director Jahja Ling’s concept of formulating a program around rhapsodies proved to be both enlightening and entertaining, especially with piano soloist Jon Kimura Parker’s energetic contributions to Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
In a Masterworks program Friday at Copley Symphony Hall that also included Alfvén’s “Swedish Rhapsody No. 1” and Enesco’s “Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1,” Parker displayed a rare combination of exuberance and finesse.
When Rachmaninoff, in what is essentially a set of variations, demanded pure, unbridled virtuosity, as in the work’s double-fisted, octave-laden passages, Parker relished the opportunity. And when the Russian composer asked for something more lyrical in the work’s most rhapsodic moments, Parker savored the chance to bring a relaxed, spontaneous, more intimate feeling to the music.
Parker’s playing was even freer, yet still focused, in the “Rhapsody in Blue.” He infused the piece with a fluidity and flexibility that sounded improvisational. Still, he, Ling and the orchestra were perfectly in sync. They sounded so attuned to each other and the particular nuances of Gershwin’s jazz-inflected style that they seemed to breath together.
As for the Alfvén and Enesco rhapsodies, Ling has a special affinity for these big, showy pieces that were once at the core of the repertoire but have moved toward the edges as time has passed them by.
Alfvén’s “Rhapsody” in particular sounded a bit musty, but Ling’s lively, sympathetic treatment brought out its most appealing elements and provided a showcase for the orchestra’s woodwind section, particularly principal clarinet Sheryl Renk and principal oboe Sarah Skuster.
Enesco’s “Rumanian Rhapsody” sounds less dated even if it runs out of ideas well before it runs out of music, but there was no denying the zest Ling and the orchestra brought to the work. The frenzied ending was a little off kilter, but that just added to the excitement, much like the rapid final measures of the Rachmaninoff tested even Parker’s technique. As he played the closing chords, he bounced off the bench then jumped up on the podium and embraced Ling. The essence of the performance was reflected in their huge grins.