Sleeper leads Frost Symphony in rich and nuanced performances of Brahms and Sleeper

By David Fleshler

 Asiya Korepanova performed Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 with Thomas Sleeper and the Frost Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Asiya Korepanova performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with Thomas Sleeper and the Frost Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

The University of Miami’s Frost School of Music put its assets on display Saturday, with a majestic concerto performance by a distinguished alumna and an absorbing symphony composed by one of its leading faculty members.

The Russian-born pianist Asiya Korepanova studied at the conservatories of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, then came to the United States at the invitation of Frost piano professor Santiago Rodriguez to earn a doctorate. Her performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Frost Symphony Orchestra at Gusman Hall captured the work’s epic feel, with spacious, expansive playing and phrases that always put across the musical drama. She drew a big, aggressive sonority from the piano that allowed her to rival, and when necessary dominate, the orchestra.

In the opening Allegro, she stretched out rhythms for expressive effect without diminishing the sturdy squareness of their construction that’s so essential for this classically minded Romantic composer. Her performance of this difficult work was not note-perfect (although by all accounts, neither were performances by Brahms), but this may have been partly a consequence of her fearless and headlong style at the piano. She could also bring a delicate touch to the keyboard; in the Andante, a misty episode of slowly ascending notes against a spare accompaniment in winds and strings, was mesmerizing in its quiet intensity.

One aside: It’s rarely worth mentioning a performer’s outfit, but she may want to reconsider the long metallic silver skirt that caused bright reflections of the stage lights in the eyes of the audience.  

The orchestra’s conductor, Thomas Sleeper, always draws mature, nuanced and polished performances from his student ensemble. If there were times when the playing sounded unnecessarily mechanical–such as the brief major-key trio in the Scherzo—the musicians largely delivered a performance full of Brahmsian warmth, with the intensity and commitment to express the concerto’s tragic episodes. The Scherzo had a downhill motion and keen sense of dynamics, giving it a force that propelled it to a rousing ending. Principal cellist Shea Kole delivered a poetic account of the solo that opens the Andante, playing in an elevated and expressive manner, with a rich tone and sense of restraint that kept the music on a high level.

As an encore, Korepanova played her own transcription of the Adagio from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, a virtuoso whirl of notes, in which she brought a huge tone to the work’s main theme.

Thomas Sleeper conducted the Frost Symphony Orchestra Friday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Thomas Sleeper.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Sleeper’s own Symphony No. 1. The work consists of a huge Adagio wrapped in three short, quick movements, using a harmonic vocabulary that recalls the great mid-20th century symphonists. 

The first movement opens with a dry motif in the woodwinds and quickly turns turbulent, with pounding bass drum and timpani and swooping trombones. This brief movement felt in a way like a quick introduction to clear the air and establish the silence from which would emerge the Adagio.

In tone and orchestration, the Adagio felt like one of those vast slow movements of Mahler. The harmonies were racier, and Sleeper made fruitful use of dissonance, using clashing notes sparingly and to great expressive effect to create moments of emotional intensity. It was especially reminiscent of Mahler in the string tremolos, the transparent orchestration, the noble and dramatic writing for brass, the stately pace and the expressive eloquence. The movement built quietly and inexorably to a long climax in the brass, delivered by the Frost musicians in a manner that was never raucous, but weighted, refined and sonorous.

The next movement was an ominous and mysterious episode, with spooky high tones in winds and nervous strings, a scherzo to accompany a horror movie. It led without a break into the last movement, more nervous agitation, with rollicking rhythms topped by baleful tones in the brass, with a hard-driving march to an abrupt ending. Although these movements seemed to lack the heft to follow the symphony’s monumental Adagio, they were exciting, energetic, if brief, musical episodes.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sun Dec 3, 2017
at 1:39 pm
No Comments