John Frayne | Fruits of a musical pileup: 2 juicy performances

John Frayne | Fruits of a musical pileup: 2 juicy performances

There seems to be an unwritten law here that all major musical events must be concluded before the last weekend of April. The result is a musical equivalent of rush hour.

In my experience, the pileup of events was the Champaign-Urbana Symphony concert on Saturday, April 28, and the Lyric Theatre@Illinois's performance of "She Loves Me" on Sunday afternoon, April 29.

The C-U Symphony, led by Stephen Alltop, opened its concert with the first movement, "Becoming Medusa" of Stacy Garrop's "Mythology Symphony." Three other movements had been played at the concert of March 2. Garrop's music tried to present the horror of Medusa's plight: with snaky locks and an aspect so horrible that she turns onlookers to stone. Garrop's movement begins in full horror mode, and then, through a flashback, she presents in more lyrical tones Medusa's sexual encounter with Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, and the "Earth Shaker." This sexual act, committed in Athena's temple, enrages that goddess to unleash a ghastly punishment on Medusa to ensure that Medusa at least will never again tempt a god.

Garrop's music is successful in portraying horror, but I think the movement would be better if it began with the erotic episode and then unleashed the terrible consequences. Energetically urged on by Alltop, the C-U Symphony gave a vivid account of Garrop's score, especially the violin solo played by Sun-Young Gemma Shin.

W.A. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat Major, K. 449, which followed the Garrop music, is a charming work. If it lacks the soulful penetration of the Mozart piano concertos from No. 20 on, it has the merit of not being overexposed in the concert hall, and especially on the radio.

Pianist Sun Chang, who studies at Northwestern University, displayed admirable light-fingered delicacy in Mozart's florid, gallant writing. The slow movement highlighted Chang's insightful lyrical playing as Mozart shifted from key to key, and the finale sparkled with commanding playing by Chang, especially when Mozart doubled the speed. The applause for Chang, and the C-U players, led by Alltop, was very strong.

In remarks from the stage, Alltop promised a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 for the 2018-19 season. The present concert concluded with a superb performance of Mahler's First Symphony, subtitled "Titan," from an original program based on Jean Paul Richter's 1800-03 novel "Titan," a program which Mahler later dropped.

For those of us who are veterans of Mahler's later, and longer, symphonies, the First, at a mere 50 minutes, seems to speed by. It is full of lovely melodies, and a grand apocalypse which begins the finale, a movement which sports two roof-raising climaxes. For this celebratory season-ending performance, all 80 or so members of the C-U Symphony deserve the highest praise. At the symphony's tumultuous end, Alltop called for collective bows from the woodwinds, horns, trumpets, trombones and the strings, as the audience applauded, while standing.

On Sunday afternoon, April 29, I attended the last performance of the Lyric Theatre@ Illinois production of the 1963 musical, "She Loves Me," with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joe Masteroff. This charming show is an adaptation of Miklos Laszlo's 1936 play "Parfumerie." I was completely won over by this production of this musical, and I rate it as quite competitive with Ernst Lubitsch's masterful 1940 film version, "The Shop Around the Corner," which had memorable performances by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

The stage setting of the present production by Yue Shi was in delightful art deco style, and the costumes by Sharne Van Ryneveld were spot-on perfect. The stage direction by Sarah Wigley, and the musical direction by Michael Tilley, as well as the choreography by Endalyn Taylor brought from the UI student performers a highly professional level of acting, singing and dancing. The pit orchestra, led with a subtle but dramatically forceful beat by Julie Gunn on Sunday afternoon, brought out the sparkling vivacity of Jerry Bock's score.

Rachel Weinfeld was outstanding as the hilarious, loose-cannon ball heroine Amalia Balash. Nole F. Jones, as her unwitting pen pal Georg Nowack, gave an assured and forceful performance. Colleen Bruton as the sharp-tongued Ilona Ritter, and Bennett Kosma as the philandering Stephen Kodaly kept the comic plot simmering. Stephen Condon as the fellow salesman Ladislav Sipos, Steven Michael Patrick as the boss Mr. Maraczek, and Geoffrey Schmelzer as Keller gave consistent support to the romantic plot. Joe Agase as the errant boy Arpad Lazlo was quite amusing. Scott Knier as the Head Waiter and Corey Barlow as the Busboy did an uproarious sketch worthy of comparison with "Fawlty Towers."

Especially treasurable was the shop routine of thanking customers, especially ladies of fashion, by singing a farewell musical bouquet. Now if we could just have had a whiff of perfume!

Correction to my review of May 10: The title of the Sinfonia da Camera concert on April 27 was "A Suite Ending," not "A Sweet Ending."

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.