The Krannert Center Debut Artist Concert in Foellinger Great Hall on April 14 had a historic significance. It was the final event during the Krannert Center's celebration of its 50th season. Director Mike Ross, head of Krannert Center, gave a short talk before the music started, in which he asserted that the Krannert Center had always had a tradition of encouraging young artists starting their performance careers.
The winner of the Debut Artists Competition this year, Wilson Poffenberger, played an unusual instrument. He is an admirably skilled player of the saxophone.
The opening selection was Poffenberger's own arrangement for his instrument of the familiar "Mother Goose Suite" of Maurice Ravel. For this composition, he played a soprano saxophone, which produced a decidedly smooth, lovely tone.
Poffenberger was outstanding in the "Petite Poucel" ("Little Tom Thumb") section, which he handled with delicate phrasing and letter-perfect playing.
At the piano, Casey Gene Dierlam gave Poffenberger secure musical support, showing technical assurance throughout the concert.
"Legende," of Florent Schmidt (1870-1958), drew widely expressive playing from Poffenberger, who performed on the more familiar-sounding alto saxophone here and during the rest of the program.
Beginning the second part of the program, Poffenberger, playing solo, gave a forceful and joyous reading of his arrangement of J.S. Bach's Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004.
The rest of the concert was divided between the more contemporary-sounding Sonata of Edison Denisov (1929-1996) and the older, more conventional sounds of the Sonata in C sharp minor by Fernande Decruck (1896-1954).
Denisonv's sonata opened with a strongly kinetic, no-holds-barred allegro movement, and the forceful finale had Poffenberger producing a staccato, tapping sound from his saxophone.
Decruck's sonata was easier on the ear and evoked from Poffenberger engaging, good-humored playing, especially in the "Nocturne and Finale" movement, which sported an upbeat, catchy tune.
All in all, this concert was a wide-ranging demonstration of Poffenberger's mastery of his instrument, and at the concert's conclusion, the on-stage audience rose to praise this harbinger of a productive career.
Ian Hobson led the Sinfonia da Camera in its FGH season-ending concert on April 20. Two Russian works were played, Peter Tchaikovsky's seldom-performed Symphony No. 1 and Alexander Borodin's famous "Polovtsian Dances" from his opera "Prince Igor."
In between came a work by the veteran Uzbekistan composer Dilorom Saidaminova (born 1943). This work was her "Breath of the East" Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings, in its world premiere performance.
The soloists were two musicians familiar to Sinfonia's audiences, Rochelle Sennet, who is the Sinfonia's orchestral pianist, and Igor Kalnin, who is co-concertmaster of the Sinfonia.
Tchaikovsky began his First Symphony in 1866, when he was 26 years old, and after performances in parts, and then as a whole, it was published in 1874. This work has many signs of the work of a beginner, and it also has bold, striking musical ideas, as well as a steady flow of memorable melodies, always a trademark of Tchaikovsky.
The composer gave the work the title "Winter Reverie," and his opening movement, highly dramatic after a slow introduction, bears the title "Dreams of a Winter Journey."
The slow movement, bearing the forbidding title "Land of Desolation," begins with a lovely melody admirably intoned by John Dee. The Scherzo movement balanced an incessantly repeated first theme with a lovely waltz in the trio section.
Hobson led the Sinfonia in a dynamic performance of this whole work, especially the clangorous finale, replete with cymbal crashes and volleys from the bass drum and tympani. We should be thankful to hear this work by a symphonic master.
The Uzbek composer Dilorom Saidaminova is apparently a highly respected musician in her native land, and in her program notes she described the delights of her country, which she tried to evoke in this concerto.
The sweet melody at the beginning of this "Breath of the East" concerto told us in the audience that this would be charming and attractive music in a traditional vein.
In one long movement, this concerto gave the violin and piano solos chances to play high-profile sections that ranged from songlike lyrical passages to staccato dancelike parts.
Aside from a cadenzalike section for Kalnin, there were passages in which both Sennet and Kalnin shared virtuoso-level duo playing.
Saidominova's work has many pleasurable moments, and, without wearing out its welcome, the work was brought to an exciting ending. To strong applause, the Kalnin-Sennet duo offered as encore an eloquently played rendition of Peter Tchaikovsky's "Melodie."
The concert ended with a bravura reading by Hobson and the Sinfonia of Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" from "Prince Igor."
After the uproarious end, woodwind members were called upon for bows, and amid the generally lively playing, the percussionists, led by Ricardo Flores, and William Moersch at the timpani showed outstanding skills in this thrilling music.
It was quite a sendoff to a highly successful season for the Sinfonia and Hobson.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.