KSO plays concert crammed with Russian passion

Harold DuckettOur Town Arts

There were several star performances at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra concert at the Tennessee Thursday night; two of them absolutely scintillating. But the solos played by several of the instrument principals during Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Op. 35, were worth noting as well.

Pianist Tanya Gabrielian gave a dazzling performance in Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” op. 43.

Her playing had exceptional clarity but without sacrificing any of the power that almost all of Rachmaninoff’s music demands. The abundant arpeggios sparkled with precision. In the second movement, she gave the notes plenty of space to breathe. The piece’s only true melody, late in the second movement, sung with romantic beauty.

Unlike some guest soloists who seem to be in a world of their own, Gabrielian’s connection to both conductor Aram Demirjian and the orchestra showed in the integration, sometimes submersion, of the piano into the orchestral texture.

Then, she rewarded the audience’s enthusiastic response to her performance by playing a contrasting, atmospheric encore of Mili Balakirev’s “The Lark,” a transcription for piano of Mikhail Glinka’s “Romance,” written for harp, violin and cello.

In the program’s opening work, the “Rose Adagio” from Tchaikovsky’s 1890 ballet “The Sleeping Beauty,” principal horn Jeffery Whaley and harpist Cindy Hicks began the piece with stellar playing.

They were just the first of well-played solos by most of the principals in the orchestra that followed in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Op. 35.

KSO concertmaster William Shaub

But it was the spectacular playing of concertmaster William Shaub that came very close to being the most beautiful performance of the concert.

“Scheherazade” is the story Sultana Scheherazade, the main character in “One Thousand and One Nights.” Convinced that all women are false and faithless, the Sultan Schariar vows to put to death each of his wives after the first nuptial night.

The Sultana outsmarts him by entertaining her lord with fascinating tales every night for a thousand and one nights.

The solo violin, superbly played by Shaub in a performance equal to his spectacular playing, along with fellow violinist Edward Pulgar, in the recent performance of Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins,” serves as the Scheherazade’s voice, playing the theme in a tender winding melody that recurs throughout the piece.

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