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Review: Return to Paris charms

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Colorado Symphony Orchestra

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The Colorado Symphony Orchestra's partnership with the Denver Art Museum continued this past weekend in their "Return to Paris" program. It was an elegant evening of music (seen Jan. 18) with former CSO music director Jeffrey Kahane at the podium. Guest pianist Jan Lisiecki added soloistic flourish with his rendition of Frederic Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in e minor, and pieces by Thomas Adés and Maurice Ravel filled out this intriguing concert.

Adés' Three Studies from Couperin (2006) rearranges a few of François Couperin's 17th-century harpsichord works into a complex and singular modern work. Couperin was one of France's premier musicians during his life (1668-1733) and he helped define the French Baroque sound. Here the clean, rhythmic lines of the original Baroque counterpoint are distributed by Adés amidst strings, a bevy of percussion instruments, and a smattering of wind and brass. The inclusion of alto and bass flutes gives the piece a muted and almost hypnotic effect, and while the fascinating timbres created were lovely at times, the three movements made for an interesting but somewhat tepid opening number to the program; it might have been better placed at another point on the program.

18 year old Lisiecki maintains a busy performing schedule, and appeared onstage with the CSO with a remarkably mature demeanor and reserved yet powerful playing. Chopin's first concerto had a tenuous connection to the Parisian theme: it was performed in 1830 at Chopin's final concert in his native Poland before he moved to Paris. In spite of this, the audience reveled in Lisiecki's fine reading of the piece, and with Kahane's skilled and perceptive leadership, the performance was gracefully rendered. Lisiecki sensitively played the inner voices, maintaining the Classical stylistic touches in Chopin's writing while playing the more Romantic melodies with ease and flourish. His clean and polished phrasing let the music speak for itself. Chad Cognata added a lovely bassoon solo in the charming second movement, and the ensemble was spot-on throughout. Lisiecki obliged with an encore of Chopin's passionate Etude op. 10, no. 12.

Ravel was the star of the second half of the program, as the CSO continued its exploration of Couperin's music with Ravel's 1917 work Tombeau de Couperin. In this tribute to the Baroque composer, bits of themes emerge, but flit away just as quickly, and full symphonic grandeur sounds only briefly. The jaunty rhythmic motive of the second movement, and the lilting oboe theme of the third (played winningly by Peter Cooper) each give this piece its Impressionist take on Baroque formality: like a Gothic cathedral in a Monet painting, the melodic outline is obscured and surrounded by many other colors and flourishes. Kahane led this piece with particular nuance and verve. The full forces of the CSO were on stage for the conclusion of the concert: Ravel's La Valse (1919). This lush closing piece was full of brilliantly colored and phrased moments, from the ominous opening in basses and timpani, to the lurid glissandi in the strings once the waltz melody materializes. In this slinking, drunken take on a Viennese waltz, the orchestra played with absolute panache and let the grandeur of Ravel's music flow freely. It was a thrilling conclusion to this program.

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