Symphony season's climactic finale blazes with piano artistry
By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to The Advertiser
By Ruth O. Bingham
Originally, the Honolulu Symphony's final concert for the 2005-06 season, scheduled for May 26 and 28, was a sure bet: It featured William Wolfram performing Rachmaninoff's popular "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" in a program with familiar works by Debussy and Respighi.
When Wolfram had to move his performance into the 2006-07 season, the Symphony kept the Rachmaninoff as the program's centerpiece, hired a young pianist named Stewart Goodyear, moved the date up to May 12 and 14 to accommodate his schedule and revamped the program to include three works rarely heard in Hono-lulu. The result Friday night was excellent — so good, in fact, that it's hard to believe the original plan could have come close.
Best of all was the surprise Goodyear provided: He proved to be a terrific, exciting pianist, playing with crisp, blazing technique, distinctive character and a strong sense of overall structure.
Goodyear had much to say as a performer and offered his audience ample opportunities to opine about how one passage or another ought to be played. Familiar passages at times sounded improvisatory, as though Good-year were literally re-creating the music on the spot, each variation leaping into vivid realization.
Even the famous Variation XVIII, which has been called the "heart" of the piece, which can so easily lapse into saccharine vacuity, was fresh enough to seduce, beautiful enough to make one renounce all modernism.
Goodyear's encore also took the audience by surprise: a fantastically embellished "Blue Danube" waltz, a purely-for-fun, guilty dessert of an encore that made the audience laugh. Goodyear's version time-warped into the 19th-century approach of classical music as joyful entertainment, not the serious, sour-and-dour exercise it so often became in the 20th century.
Conductor JoAnn Falletta, having worked with Goodyear in the past, matched him well, eliciting an excellent, smoothly blended sound from the orchestra, with dovetailed parts and balanced timbres, so that even solos were like bright threads in a tightly woven tapestry.
The opening work, Elgar's "In the South" ("south" being Italy), felt especially luxurious with its sweeping velvet sound waves, its English roundedness providing a companionable contrast to Rachmaninoff's Russian angularity. One particularly breathtaking passage featured Constance Uejio on harp and Mark Butin on viola, later joined by Wade Butin on horn.
While the first half of the concert presented reactions to Italy and its music, the second half consisted of music by Italians — Respighi and his teacher, Giuseppe Martucci, who is all but unknown today.
Martucci's languid, sweetly se-rene "Notturno" drew attention to the intermission's silent soloist — a spectacular full moon — and transitioned smoothly from the first half's fiery Rachmaninoff to Respighi's colorful "Church Windows."
Respighi's four portraits depicted biblical scenes with novel timbral effects: Scott Anderson (clarinet) and Constance Uejio (harp) in the Middle Eastern "Flight Into Egypt"; adrenaline-pumping low brass, percussion and tumbling strings in the battles of "St Michael, Archangel"; and Jessica Choi (piano), So Jin Kimura (celeste) and Kathy Crosier (organ) in "Matins of Santa Chiara" and "St. Gregory the Great."
In the second movement, trumpeter Mark Schubert stepped backstage to play a cool and commanding "voice of God descending from on high" passage. ("Oooh — pressure!" timpanist Stuart Chafetz joked before the concert.)
Friday's concert provided a climactic season finale, and the audience departed exchanging enthusiastic praise for soloist, conductor, musicians and program.