The Kansas City Symphony’s choice of Anna Clyne’s This Midnight Hour (2015) to lead into tonight’s program was an attractive one, and new for many of us. An atmospheric and accessible work, meant to evoke “a visual journey” in the listener, it draws on the poem Harmonie du soir by Baudelaire and La musica by Juan Ramón Jiménez, both of which explore harmonies of music and of natural forms. The opening was tightly rhythmic and attention-grabbing. The string playing powerful throughout, although I felt the brass and woodwind sections could have sounded more resonant. It’s an eclectic piece, and the Symphony, under the baton of Michael Stern, went with the flow of it, ending with dramatic abruptness. I will look forward to hearing more of Clyne’s works.

Midori and the Kansas City Symphony
© Eric Williams

Following on from the Baudelaire-inspired contemporary work, came a more established work also with impressionist provenance, Debussy’s La Mer. This is painterly music at its most subtle and powerful, an insistent exploration of the depths and surface play of the endless ocean. In the first of the symphonic sketches, De l'aube à midi sur la mer, we enjoyed the strong cello playing and the shimmering, crashing percussive waves at the end. Both here, and in the second sketch, Jeux de vagues, it was not always easy to pick out the inner voices, especially when the dynamics were pianissimoTheir interpretation would have benefited from greater attention to detail here. In the third sketch, the Dialogue du vent et de la mer, we experience musically the two mightiest natural forces, wind and sea, with all their latent and expressed power. There was drama here, especially in the percussive ending, which was compelling. 

I hadn’t had the opportunity to attend a Midori concert for quite twenty years or more and I was very glad to be reminded of how I used to listen to her recordings on old-fashioned tapes, loving the clean lines of her virtuosity, the flawless technical bravura, the lightness of touch. The clarity of her sound, the crisp, cleanness of her melodic lines were all still fully in evidence, as she performed Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major. This was mature, assured playing. For all that, I felt it lacked something tonight, perhaps a little freshness, a little more dalliance with the lush Romantic indulgences of the work. She might have loosened up, and given herself permission to get into the deep, dark corners of the work, so that, we the audience, might hear something new. 

Midori, Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony
© Eric Williams

Brahms' concerto is such a work of partnership between soloist and orchestra, and the partnership tonight, whilst solid, didn’t feel inspired. The dramatic opening was somewhat small scale, lacking in grandeur (this could lapse into grandiosity in immature hands, but that wouldn’t have been an issue here). In the second movement Adagio, where there were, it is true, some very lovely moments of turn-taking, there were opportunities for melting lyricism which weren’t indulged in. Midori’s decisive, cool style tonight suited the Allegro giocoso rather more, but even still, I was left yearning for more communication of raw, rather than refined, emotional power.