The Delaware Symphony champagne series at the Hotel DuPont Gold Ballroom October 4 was a whirling delight of early twentieth century compositions. The program featured DSO woodwind principals and principal French horn in five solos and a grand finale sextet.
Pianist Lura Johnson, recently named principal piano to the DSO, was a powerhouse – playing every one of the quite difficult pieces and bonding extremely well with all five soloists. William Short was able to show his marvelous tone in both high and low registers in Henri Dutilleux’s Sarabande et cortege for bassoon and piano. (Having heard him play in Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra in both his final Curtis concert and the recent DSO opening, his smooth sound and control was no surprise.)
Charles Salinger’s arrangement of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei for clarinet was a more somber and subtle piece, allowing Salinger to show his amazing control and dynamic gradations in a narrow range of sound. Karen Schubert’s horn sound in Paul Dukas’ Villanelle for horn and piano had the volume needed in that room to stand against the full sound of the grand piano’s open lid and Johnson’s strong attacks.
Jeff O’Donnell’s delicate oboe sound (which had been sorely missed during his year-long hiatus from the DSO) and Kimberly Reighley’s flute were both high enough to be in an almost different sound zone from the piano and this enhanced the effect of each performance, allowing their control and technical brilliance to be clearly heard.
And the Poulenc sextet was one of those moments in musical performances where everything seemed to click among the six musicians – the rollicking music resounded in the ballroom – and here is where the strength of Johnson’s piano playing really showed. What other pianist could have prepared that many notes for a single evening’s concert and still play with energy and gusto up to the very last note?