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Fresh Sounds

Jones Hall
09/17/2015 -  & September 19*, 20, 2015
John Corigliano: Stomp
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor

Houston Symphony, Andrés Orozco-Estrada

John Corigliano (© J. Henry Fair)

For the first subscription concert of the 2015-16 season, Houston Symphony music director smartly paired an engaging world premiere with one of the staples of symphonic repertoire, allowing the audience to appreciate first and foremost the sheer sound of its hometown band.

Orozco-Estrada knows how to treat a composer well. John Corigliano and his new work Stomp, an orchestral reimagining of a seven-minute solo violin work, were given every opportunity to engage the audience. Mr. Corigliano spoke from the stage in quite a bit of depth about the original version of Stomp and its transition into orchestral garb, with an excerpt from the solo version played to give the audience a taste of the piece's origins.

The work itself, which aims at being a virtuosic curtain-raiser, is a bit out of balance in terms of energy and proportion. The opening---a percussive pop, bluegrass-inspired fiddling, and "bawdy" low brass jazz licks--is arresting, but the energy flags very quickly and a lengthy slow section makes up the bulk of the work. Corigliano's sense of color is always engaging, but the return to the quick music comes off as a bit forced, and the souped-up reiteration of the brassy music doesn't quite go far (or last long) enough. The orchestra gave the piece its all, with especially raucous and enjoyable sonorities coming from the bass trombone. After a healthy ovation, Orozco-Estrada repeated the last third of the work, inviting the audience to attempt to stomp along with the orchestra.

After intermission, Mahler's Fifth Symphony was given a reading intent on letting the players of the orchestra shine. The work's two main protagonists, principal trumpet Mark Hughes and principal horn William VerMeulen, played with technical finesse and tonal refinement, and their colleagues followed suit. Recently appointed principal clarinet Mark Nuccio also dazzled, completing a quartet of principal woodwinds that should be the envy of any major orchestra. Orozco-Estrada emphasized the overtly leidenschaftlich passages in the score, but seemed never to draw the strings down to a true whisper and revel in the score's more shadowy passages. The interpretation focused on Mahler the extrovert, fitting for a season opener.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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