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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Mozart, Brahms played with panache

By Gregory Shepherd

 •  Jeffrey Kahane with the Honolulu Symphony

7:30 p.m. tonight, Blaisdell Concert Hall.

$15-$55 (discounts available).

792-2000 or TicketPlus outlets.

The modern piano, much more powerful than that of Mozart's day, can sometimes so dominate a concerto performance that the orchestra plays too secondary a role. Guest artist Jeffrey Kahane solves the problem by literally inserting the instrument, lid removed, directly into the orchestra, and the blend he achieved on Sunday's Honolulu Symphony performance of the Concerto No. 17 in G-Major offered new insights into a familiar work.

Taking on the roles of both conductor and soloist, Kahane brought clarity to passages that sometimes get lost in the mix, while his keyboard technique was essentially flawless and perfectly idiomatic for Mozart. His only misstep on Sunday seemed an outgrowth of the dual role he played, to wit, trills at the ends of phrases were a bit inexact in preparation for orchestral entrances. But his interpretation brimmed with a wholesome joy that moved both audience and orchestra.

Unlike most of Mozart's music, the first two movements of the concerto hold back and explore darker areas by means of almost constant key changes, with a greater than usual emphasis on the minor. Kahane's incomparably sensitive touch brought a mystery to the movements that was enhanced by the seamlessness of the piano and orchestral parts. The final movement, a set of variations on a simple theme, grows increasingly more lively and challenging. Kahane not only played his part with astonishing dexterity but also brought out the orchestral part with near-perfect coordination.

Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D Major is like an SUV compared to Mozart's sleek coupe, but Kahane changes gears without a hint of grinding, and the full sound he gets out of the greatly augmented orchestra and Brahms' darkish orchestration was elegant and refined. There is a spaciousness to Kahane's conducting that allows the phrases to grow on their own accord without undue pressure on the musicians, and it was inspiring to see the lack of ego he brings to music-making.

Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings opened the program with a muted tearfulness that left the audience in spellbound silence for several moments at its conclusion.