Music Review

Symphony Orchestra of Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory at Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Monday, November 23, 2009

On its first American concert tour, the Symphony Orchestra of Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory made its Washington debut Friday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program coupled repertoire staples by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Bernstein with the East Coast premiere of "Jamilya," an expansive tone poem by Kazakhstan composer Aktoty Raimkulova.

The orchestra, a large one, rivals the best American student ensembles in every dimension of ensemble playing. Under the baton of 21-year-old conductor Kanat Omarov, the players began with Tchaikovsky's Overture to "Romeo and Juliet." Christophe Mangou led them in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18. Both works are quintessentially Russian in their epic proportions, emotionally charged lyricism and dark harmonic colors. The performances were propelled with youthful exuberance, precise ensemble and lustrous tone; every section was given chances to shine, and they did. Jania Aubakirova, soloist in the Rachmaninoff, combined poignant elegance, technical prowess and finely modulated phrasing.

One wished that the traditional ensemble Turan could have had a greater share of Friday's program. Arrayed in brilliant ethnic attire, the five-musician group played two Kazakh songs on many different folk instruments. Its characteristic sonorities, accompanied by low-pitched throat singing, are rooted in the ancient nomadic cultures of Central Asia, in which every vocal and instrumental sound expresses cosmic themes linking earthly human experience with the mythological past. Turan's musicmaking was totally riveting.

Conducted by Mangou, "Jamilya" was alluring and colorful, alternating Turan's fascinating improvisations with orchestral responses blending Kazakh and Western musical styles.

-- Cecelia Porter

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