The Commercial Appeal
By Jon W. Sparks, Special to The Commercial Appeal
Monday, October 29, 2007
original link

MSO's La Mer lively, dynamic

Performance merited more enthused crowd

There was a whole lotta allegorizin' going on this weekend with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

The showpiece performance in the latest Masterworks Series offering was Debussy's La Mer, a delicious and stirring work that reflected the composer's love for the sea. Much is made by commentators of the waters and currents and waves, egged on by letters from Debussy in which the prose is as purple as mountains majesty on the subject of the watery depths.

But it's far better to explore the sonic adventurousness of the piece that, just over a hundred years ago, rewrote standards of musical expression. The MSO, led by maestro David Loebel, shivered the timbers Saturday at the Cannon Center and Sunday at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre. The GPAC performance of La Mer was solid and dynamic, lively and wonderfully balanced.

The featured performer was violinist Jennifer Koh who, before intermission, took on Leonard Bernstein's Serenade with considerable vigor. Bernstein said he was inspired by Plato's "Symposium," a dialog on the nature of love. Or, put another way, a bunch of guys talking about sex, but more elevated than your average frat discourse.

In any event, the work is rich and delightful whether or not you care what Bernstein's literary nudge was. The orchestra never let it all hang out, although there was considerable expressiveness, particularly in the swift third movement, the gorgeous fourth and the roller-coaster fifth.

Koh was magnificent, both controlled and passionate in bringing off passages that were profoundly moving and challenging.

The challenge was probably a bit much for the audience, at least at GPAC, which applauded politely and dutifully. Koh's performance certainly merited more enthusiasm, but Bernstein doesn't offer much to hum about unless you're partial to the Jets or the Sharks, and the audience -- which didn't nearly fill GPAC -- didn't get to savor any of the usual old crowd pleasers.

The program's other offerings were Verdi's Overture to La Forza del Destino and Delius' The Walk to the Paradise Garden, both operatic, both competently performed and neither particularly memorable.

© 2007 Commercial Appeal

© Jennifer Koh, All Rights Reserved. Photography by Juergen Frank. Site by ycArt design studio