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Review: Dan impresses while Barton Pine produces violinistic fireworks with symphony

Kayoko Dan

Kayoko Dan’s conducting technique impressed immediately in her concert auditioning for the music director’s position with the West Virginia Symphony, Saturday night at the Clay Center’s Maier Foundation Performance Hall.

Dan, who is currently the music director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, is the first of six candidates to audition for the position of music director to replace Grant Cooper.

She conducted with small gestures with minimal use of her left hand in a bubbly performance of Glinka’s Overture to “Ruslan and Ludmilla.” Rhythms sounded pointed while textures were transparent. The orchestra’s tone and rhythm matched the lightness of her conducting. Timpani and brass were boisterous in the echoes that added energy to the discourse.

The masterful Rachel Barton Pine returned to Charleston as soloist in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63. The piece has not managed to shoulder aside the big warhorse concertos of the 19th century, and it has been eclipsed by the bounty of superb concertos composed in the last 40 years.

But it is a fine, compelling piece, which Barton Pine, Dan and the orchestra made expressively clear.

The opening movement shifts between busy passage work for the soloist over rumbling bass and cello patterns and lyrical melodies where the soloist plays gracefully over the variable tonal colors of the orchestra. Barton Pine’s playing was dynamic, never forced, but richly colored and incisive.

The middle movement is one of the composer’s off-kilter masterpieces. It has the trappings of a slow movement with searching melody and sweet harmonies, but it mixes in little march-like sections, jarring rhythms and tart chords that give the music a distinct bite. Barton Pine handled the range of expression with ease, producing sinuous lines in the lyrical passages and dicing the lines of the march-like music with pugnacious elegance.

Barton Pine produced subdued fireworks in the busy finale. Her forceful rhythm and subtle tone generated intensity even in the several quiet passages where she was her fiddling away with just plucked basses and staccato bass drum as the accompaniment.

Dan’s conducting was again economical. She skillfully held the ensemble together, matching Barton Pine’s phrasing. The orchestra was smartly balanced with the soloist, while Dan was nimbly accurate in the rapidly shifting meters in the finale.

Dan’s conducting of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E Minor had a few problems of rhythmic accuracy. A fanfare-like motif in the first movement was ragged in its entrances at first. Some of the incessant off-beat patterns in the scherzo were roughly coordinated.

But the performance had a firm sense of architecture with the music paced well and the ensemble balanced to reveal details from all ranges of instruments. The slow movement, simple in melody but complex in texture, was admirably shaped and shaded.

The variations of the final movement, based on a brief passage of eight chords, moved emphatically, aided by the sonorous trombones. Dan guided the movement with a sure hand.

The audience responded enthusiastically, drawing Dan back for three curtain calls.

The concert began with a moment of silence in memory of former concertmaster John Lambros who died last week at the age of 98.

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