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Concert Review

The Detroit Symphony in Farmington Hills

Berman Center for the Performing Arts
* Kenneth Thompkins, trombone
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Warren-Green
* Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Thompkins
Farmington Hills, Michigan, Berman Center for the Performing Arts, 11 April 2013

This is perhaps not the world's most adventurous program, but surely more than the sum of its parts. Christopher Warren-Green is a fine, entertaining conductor who clearly is very comfortable with Classical period masterpieces. He's also happily unfazed with using modern instruments, meaning that he had no problem working with much-reduced Detroit Symphony forces. The Berman Center, which is part of Farmington Hills' stunning Jewish Cultural Center, proved an ideal venue for what turned out to be an almost intimate concert.

I must confess that while I love the Serenade #6 that opened the program, the "Serenata notturna" as it is better known usually sounds the same no matter who plays it. Credit Warren-Green for making it more interesting than most. Tempos were unusually fleet and once used to that, it made sense and sounded totally idiomatic. Concertmistress Yoonshin Song has already received praise in these quarters for her tremendous ability to lead, but her solo passages were lovingly shaped and added greatly to the witty interplay that peppers the finale. Most importantly, attacks were solid in the strings. It was all to the good, because this piece can turn mushy very quickly.

After this, the Leopold Mozart concerto was a bit of a dud. The orchestral framework was superb, but Principal Trombone Kenneth Thompkins seemed somewhat uncomfortable. He could have been simply bored, as the piece doesn't give the soloist nearly enough to do. So intonation was questionable at times. Despite all this, there is no question of how serious or talented a player Thompkins is. His smooth, rounded tone easily soared over his colleagues' excellent support. If nothing else, this proved the superiority of the younger Mozart.

After intermission, the Water Music followed. More accurately, a suite put together by Warren-Green followed. It was an odd arrangement. While the program notes called the suite both the first and second suite, Warren-Green's was obviously neither. Apparently, it was personally arranged for the Royal Family, so I suppose my complaints don't mean much here, if indeed they do elsewhere. My reservations mainly lie in the conception; for me, the suites are masterfully contrasted and feature a wide variety of moods. This was more like a grab bag of movements. That carping aside, the Detroit Symphony played beautifully with some really impressive brass playing. I've had a lot of complaints about the brass in 2013, but there was nothing to worry about here. Attacks were crisp and sharp, while everything flowed well. The Detroit Symphony has given some surprisingly good Baroque performances over the years, and did so again here.

Finally, Haydn's Symphony #44 concluded the evening. The orchestra has historically been led by some notable Haydn conductors, and even has committed some of that composer's work to disc. The piece itself demonstrates the master's symphonic innovations, including an unusually sober minuet and a simply corking finale. The reduced Detroit Symphony forces clearly had fun with this lesser known work, providing excellent playing in all sections. The audience was warm and in good humor throughout. All told, a terrific evening in this entirely worthy neighborhood series.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman

Trumpet