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Concert review: Kadouch’s ‘Claire de lune’ encore is highlight of DSSO’s ‘Elysium Fields’

The “Elysium Fields” concert by the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night at Symphony Hall was in honor of the lengthening days, a novel approach to insist spring has sprung, cold climatic conditions to the contrary. But guest pianist David Kadouch had an unexpected treat in store to keep us warm.

The opening salvo was Igor Stravinsky’s “Scherzo à la russe,” originally written for a jazz orchestra before being reworked for symphony orchestra. The use of accents in the opening establishes a driving rhythm that dissipates to set the stage for a lovely interplay between piano and harp. The buoyant piece was once choreographed by George Balanchine, and conductor Dirk Meyer played up the response by the strings to the trumpets and brass, adding a dynamic dimension that brought out a bold edge to the music.

The story is that Maurice Ravel wrote his Piano Concerto in G after touring jazz clubs in New York City with George Gershwin, which would explain the jazz idioms and bluesy harmonies throughout the piece. But there are also elements that are decidedly French, so having the Nice-born Kadouch as the pianist obviously paid dividends.

The concerto begins with a whip crack and snare drum roll, and solos from piccolo and trumpet, before Kadouch begins to develop passages that evoke the dream-like quality often associated with Ravel. Kadouch displayed a flexibility of phrasing perfectly suited to the kaleidoscope of demands, with the slower passages being particularly effective as he teased out depths of meaning to the music.

His adagio assai had a gentle grace, the left hand playing a waltz, while the right offered a melody of utter serenity, Ravel allowing the soloist ample space to enrapture the listeners until the flute, oboe and clarinet emerge in turn to take the melody into the movement’s second theme. The dazzling finale returns us to the intensity of the first movement, creating a wall of sound, albeit in an abbreviated form apparently intended by the composer to compel audiences to demand an encore.

For his encore Kadouch offered up an achingly beautiful “Claire de lune” that was as ethereal as the moonlight that inspired Debussy’s impressionist masterpiece. If there was ever a concert when the encore provided the most memorable moment, this was it, as the enthralled audience could attest.

Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major provided the sort of rich textures that Meyer likes to unravel for his audience. The composer’s Alpine setting is obvious from the opening notes, before the cellos and violas develop a variation of his lullaby melody for most of the first movement. Meyer brought out the orchestral layers, so there was a real sense of what each section was bringing to the mix.

The inner movements were equally strong. The cellos defined the ebb and gentle flow of the Adagio, while the playfulness of the delightfully delicate Allegretto grazioso was amply on display.

The energy of the final movement gave Meyer ample opportunity to play up the shifting dynamics of the piece. The return of Alpine elements signaled we had come full circle as the big finish brought the audience to its feet. Afterward we walked out into the moonlight with echoes of Kadouch’s encore flowing through our heads.