Stuart Murray Turnbull’s attractive Odyssey (2020) opened tonight’s performance on an energetic and indeed propulsive note. Although technically it was recorded before the pandemic, it has substantially changed since, so this was more or less a world premiere. Because of travel restrictions, Turnbull himself could not be present to usher his work into the world, but we got a vivid sense of his creative imprint, most of all in the clever usage of all sorts of percussive elements from ratchet to crotales, vibraphone to anvil. The Kansas City Symphony caught the buoyant, unstoppable spirit of the piece and its fragmentary, running ferment of musical ideas.

Randall Goosby and the Kansas City Symphony
© Eric Williams

A highlight of the evening was up-and-coming violinist Randall Goosby’s rendition of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor. Goosby won first prize in the 2018 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and no wonder. I loved everything about his playing – the long, lyrical bow strokes, the beautiful tones he elicited from his del Gesu Stradivarius, and the balance he struck between elegance and ferocity, neither too much of one or the other. It struck me that there was great decisiveness in his playing and that it had a contained maturity about it. All those rapid passages of double-stops were crisp and energetic. After an orchestral opening that didn’t quite feel numinous enough to evoke the lower depths from which Bruch begins, the players found their stride. Throughout there was an absolutely lovely energy flowing between them and the soloist. The last movement had plenty of fire and vim from both sides and an ending that felt immensely synergetic. I will definitely look forward to hearing more from Goosby in the coming years.

Randall Goosby, Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony
© Eric Williams

Brahms Symphony no. 1 in C minor was conductor Michael Stern's weighty counterbalance in the second half of the programme. I enjoyed this too, and the opening felt just right here – the strings so heavy they felt as if weights were being pressed on them, undergirded by the sombre, menacing timpani. Guest concertmaster Jun Iwaski sent his instrument sweetly soaring in the second movement Andante sostenuto. I was struck anew by the extended, precisely articulated pizzicato passage in the fourth movementIt’s a mark of an interesting performance that it brings out something that you haven’t quite heard in the same way before, familiar though the work is. Here I liked the way the strings tiptoed around: it felt fresh and intentionally placed. I also thought there was a lot to like about the lyrical, expansive tones in the last movement, and the triumphantly jubilant ending. It was great to hear the orchestra live again, and on form: I hope they felt the audience synergy as much as we did.