published Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Symphony warms music lovers' hearts

After a long sweltering summer, the chilly night air Thursday evening outside the Tivoli Theater seemed downright frigid. But that feeling didn't last long as the Chattanooga Symphony warmed attendees with a program of traditional favorites, conducted by its new Music Director Kyoko Dan.

Beethoven composed only one opera, "Fidelio," that gave him apoplectic fits. He was under pressure to "get it right" and composed four different overtures for his opera before finally deciding on the "Fidelio Overture." It includes fanfares, lyrical melodies and a simmering intensity expected from the musical titan. By the way: Beethoven didn't complete the overture in time for the scheduled performance, and another work was substituted.

Maestro Dan led with a restrained approach, but her forces responded with an energetic performance appropriate for a concert opener.

Edvard Grieg -- called "The Chopin of the North" (being from Denmark) -- composed his remarkable piano concerto (in A minor, Op 16) at 25 years of age. It boasts all manner of humable motives and haunting melodies, making it one of the most popular concertos.

Guest soloist Ning An, a local resident, boasts an impressive international list of credentials and honors. And the moment he began playing, the reasons for them became evident. His range of expression from thundering chords to delicate filigrees was captivating. And his energy in the middle movement was contagious.

This concerto may be an old warhorse, but Maestro Dan and Ning An offered a fresh reading that contained no dull or wasted moments -- a jewel of a solo in a handsome orchestral setting. The standing ovation was no surprise.

The mighty "Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op 61" by Johannes Brahms was a long time in coming. Expected to be the next Beethoven, this paralyzed his symphonic creativity. Finally, at 43, his first symphony debuted.

This performance was a fine one with impressive pacing, always moving ahead with purpose. Dan drew out of her ensemble both the massive sweep and anguished cries of the composer. The final movement, with its majestic hymn-like melody, featured radiant solos by principal Horn and Flute.

After two concerts, one is impressed with Kyoko Dan's ability to produce full, rich sounds from the strings and to exhibit a tight and clean ensemble from the group. So far, most impressive.

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