Minnesota Orchestra booms with Rachmaninoff

By David Hawley Special to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press

If the movie “Shine” introduced you to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, be advised that Jon Kimura Parker did not lose his sanity when he performed it Thursday with the Minnesota Orchestra.

And if you’re old enough to remember the Cold War, be advised that nobody bellowed “communist propaganda!” during conductor Andrew Litton’s reading of Shostak-ovich’s Symphony No. 12, subtitled “The Year 1917” to commemorate the Bolshevik Revolution.

The program, which gets its final performance tonight, is a particularly luscious and compelling one, since neither of its big works are heard that often, particularly the symphony, in a live performance. And if it’s big sounds you want, this is your concert.

To hear Parker play the “Rach 3” is a particular pleasure. He’s a wonderfully balanced, intelligent pianist who never seems affected in his playing. He knows how to be emotive or bombastic — both necessary objectives in this piece — but you never get the feeling he’s laying it on for the crowd, even if the thunder of the third movement prompts him to rise off his seat to smash the big chords. And, of course, he can roll out a cascade of rippling runs that shimmer like golden silk.

Litton opened the second half of the evening with a short “Intro to the 12th” exegesis in which he argued that Shostakovich was being enigmatically subversive when he wrote the symphony in the early 1960s, not just turning out poster-painted Soviet propaganda as was alleged by Western critics of the time. Parsing this symphony to find anti-Stalinist layers beneath its programmatic surface is nothing new, but it was interesting to listen to Litton break out the musical themes.

But the real source of interest is the whole of the symphony, with its conventional structure conveying an exciting, anxious swirl of sensations. And bombast: It’s the major boomer of the Shostakovich canon.


"Fantasy is not just a technical showcase, but a big, clear picture window of a musician with a rich soul and great artistic depth. It is also a fantastic example of programming that entertains as well as edifies.”
-Musical Toronto

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