October 20, 2013 Updated: October 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm
It was a night of great passion.
Saturday night’s Colorado Springs Philharmonic concert, “Romeo and Juliet,” was dedicated to music director emeritus Lawrence Leighton Smith, who is seriously ill. The orchestra’s president and CEO, Nathan Newbrough, gave a fitting tribute that celebrated the spirit and accomplishments of a man whose art and actions have much to do with the very existence of the organization today.
This was also the return to the podium of the man who received the baton from Smith and has taken the orchestra to even greater heights, current music director Josep Caballé-Domenech. Even though he has gotten a late start to his third season here, there was no sense that his command over the orchestra has missed a single beat.
One of Mozart’s most passionate works, the “Piano Concerto in C minor K. 491,” opened the program with guest artist Martina Filjak at the keyboard. For many, this is the composer’s greatest accomplishment in a genre he is universally credited for perfecting. Rather than embrace the inherent drama of the first movement, Filjak chose a restrained approach — which would be expected in an earlier Mozart concerto. Even still, her clarity and precision were very evident. It was not until her solo cadenza (written by Johannes Brahms) that the music began to express its full flesh and blood.
It was in the second movement Larghetto that Filjak’s tack paid its dividends. This was pure poetry — every musical nuance graciously announced its beauty. Sublime music was made between soloist and orchestra. In many ways, this concerto is for piano and wind ensemble. The philharmonic winds embraced their enhanced role and produced beautiful colors with elegant shaping.
Having finally ascended to the rarefied artistic air that is unique to Mozart, pianist, orchestra and conductor Caballé-Domenech brought home this masterpiece with an ideally balanced reading of the theme and variations finale. What was to follow would blow open the floodgates of orchestral expression.
Rather than perform one or more of the popular orchestral suites Sergei Prokofiev arranged from his beloved ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” Caballé-Domenech went back to the original score. Many players and audience members waxed nostalgic back to the year 2000 when the then-Colorado Springs Symphony collaborated with the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre to lift the Ballets de Monte Carlo’s inspired update of the ballet to spectacular impact. However, hearing the orchestra on stage and out of the pit produced a sensual and dramatic experience beyond compare.
Yes, Caballé-Domenech was the driving force behind this superb accomplishment. But the real credit belongs to the orchestra itself. In yet another sign of the burgeoning greatness of the ensemble, each of the 90 or so musicians on stage performed as individual soloists. It made no difference if Prokofiev had provided a specific solo or not. These players embraced their role in the only way that could have made this score truly shimmer.
There were occasional rhythmic slips. This is often incredibly dense music and not everything was a perfect fit. But when it really mattered, the music was overwhelming and powerfully filled with rich and succinct color. As the work concluded with the “Death of Juliet,” there could not have been a dry eye in the near-capacity Pikes Peak Center.
Colorado Springs Philharmonic Pops’ “Heroes and Villains” on Nov. 2; 520-7469, pikespeak center.com