This concert by the Minnesota Orchestra offered up more than the usual share of variety. The soloist in Shostakovich's Piano Concerto no. 1 in C minor was Jon Kimura Parker, a last-minute substitute for Simon Trpčeski who was unable to come to Minneapolis due to Covid travel restrictions. Performing well on such short notice, Parker negotiated the sometimes-tricky piano part with aplomb. The piano sound was prominent, suitably percussive in all the right places, and nearly note-perfect throughout.

Jon Kimura Parker and the Minnesota Orchestra
© Minnesota Orchestra

The most memorable moments came in the second movement Lento, especially the poignant passages featuring Manny Laureano's muted trumpet playing. I have no idea if using a cloth flat-cap in place of a standard mute is called for in the score, but it produced a diaphanous-yet-creamy sound, making it a very special moment in the piece. The final Allegro con brio movement was also highly effective with Parker playing up the Prokofievian flavor of the piano writing, ably supported by Laureano in a spirited give-and-take with the Minneapolis strings.

Unfortunately, the other orchestral piece on the program was less successfully presented, a performance of Schumann's Symphony no. 4 in D minor that was plagued by over-interpretation. Tempos were pulled in too many directions, making the piece seem overly episodic. In the first movement the phrasing was curious at times, resulting in passages that sounded weirdly disjointed. Attacks were sometimes flabby (although they were impressive at the beginning of the last two movements).

Several other interpretive choices seemed questionable as well. In the second movement Romanza, the important solo violin was so restrained it became lost in the orchestral fabric. After a gratifyingly vigorous start to the Scherzo, the Trio section of the movement was bogged down as individual notes and phrases were dissected and probed, while the bridge to the final movement sounded more like Bruckner than Schumann. Matters weren't helped by athletic podium leaps and occasional audible noises emanating from conductor Marc Albrecht.

Marc Albrecht conducts the Minnesota Orchestra
© Minnesota Orchestra

Two chamber pieces opened the concert. A composition for string quartet by Joel Thompson was a late addition to the program. It's an interesting piece with an on-trend title (In Response to the Madness). But the standout piece was Herbsttag, a chamber work composed in 1986 by Miguel del Águila. Scored for flute, bassoon and harp, it's chockfull of invention. Composed during the composer's studies in Vienna and inspired by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, the piece sounds more French than Central European in flavor, perhaps because of its instrumentation. But what made the music particularly winsome is the way del Águila exploits all of the possibilities of the flute and harp, including incorporating percussive elements that enhance the colors inherent in the music's already captivatingly rhapsodic horizontal lines. The bassoon part was also noteworthy for its wide range of expression. As the tension built to an agitated climax the piece sounded almost symphonic in character; it's a testament to del Águila's skills that three instruments not normally known for their inherent power could sound so full-bodied.

Herbsttag is notable for its musical invention and all-around appeal, and this performance by Minnesota Orchestra musicians Roma Duncan on flute, Christopher Marshall on bassoon and Marguerite Lynn Williams on harp could not have been bettered. It was eight minutes of captivating playing.


This performance was reviewed from the Minnesota Orchestra's video stream

***11