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21/11/2009
A triumphant return and a first-class début
Mike Greenberg - http://www.incidentlight.com/Music%20reviews/symphony091121.html

Color, focus and presence were the orders of the evening, Nov. 20, in conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing’s second appearance with the San Antonio Symphony and pianist Ewa Kupiec’s first. 



The program in the Majestic Theater held two works -- Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat and a suite drawn from Serge Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet music.



Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto -- the nickname was appended by a publisher well after its 1809 composition -- brought his “heroic” period to a close. In the extrovert, martial quality of its outer allegros, this last of his piano concerti stood apart from the more experimental, searching phase he was moving into.



The piece demands of the soloist huge technical resources and great stamina, both of which Kupiec had at her disposal. It is vulnerable to flashiness, but Kupiec subordinated brilliance to intelligence. She paid close attention to details of articulation -- every shade from a silken, weightless legato to a triphammer staccato -- and dynamics. Phrasing, touch, tone -- everything she did responded to the specifics of the music in much the same way that a very sensitive singer might. The performance was personal but not egocentric.  



Lang-Lessing’s shaping of the concerto’s orchestral backdrop hewed to similarly high standards of specificity and focus, never retreating to the generically Beethovenian. 

The conductor assembled his own selection of numbers from the three suites Prokofiev derived from his full ballet score. Prokofiev himself identified four distinct strands in his musical style -- the classical, the modern, the lyrical and the motoric. All four strands appear in full flower in this music, but in Lang-Lessing’s superb account a fifth -- the ecstatic -- seemed to shoot through the whole score. Lyrical lines were sumptuously shaped and sublimely extended. In “The Death of Tybalt,” the sword fight was not just fleet, but exhilaratingly athletic and nimble, and the death throes that followed were palpable. A few passages with very complex textures wanted more work, but on the whole the orchestra responded to Lang-Lessing with precision and fearless virtuosity. 


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