“Flight of the Bumblebee,” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, is an expected but effective tool for measuring the skill and speed of a pianist.
Fabio Bidini, the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s guest pianist, did not attempt that exercise in concert Saturday. It would have just slowed him down.
Bidini dove into a complex, often discordant and regularly inaccessible composition — Aram Khachaturian’s “Piano Concerto in D-flat major” — and made the audience love what under ordinary circumstances it might not even have even liked.
Under the direction of David Itkin, the Philharmonic opened the evening with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Overture: Ruy Blas.” The selection is at first unwelcoming, with an almost sinister undertone before rolling to a quickly blooming warmth and romance.
Next, Bidini entered and threw himself into his playing. The first tones of the Khachaturian piece — written with a strident, dissonant and brazen disregard of music history — seemed so off that some audience members looked at others: Could he really miss that many notes? This was just the beginning of a ride through the land of nothing as it should be: a solemn, almost mystic processional coming to a bright, buoyant end, followed by more disturbing discordance, up and down the piano keyboard, to an unpredicted, anguished breath and, possibly, happiness.
Bidini’s style is special, moving slightly into the keyboard and then away from it, hands up to the highest notes and down to the bass in fine, artistic moves. The quiver of his tailed jacket, the flick of his generous brown hair, even the singular rise off the bench at a moment of high emotion only emphasized his strength and concentration. The near-capacity crowd’s standing ovation, long and boisterous, seemed to please him and Itkin.
After intermission, the orchestra returned with Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4,” showing skill in the first movement, which is initially almost soothing before its ultimate intensity. Even keel returned for the studied second movement, reflecting life, slowed, with a dynamic sensitivity of the moment.
Mood changed again with a bright, lively third movement before the final section, a complex construction resembling sophisticated wordplay. Its repeating and emotive dissimilarities were captured by the orchestra. Kudos to the percussion section here and throughout the night.
This last movement lent a satisfying conclusion to all that had gone before — an affirmation of being and the passion of the piece.
It was a definitive way to end an evening that could stand by itself as a mini-music appreciation course. The orchestra came, it established itself, it traveled to an unfamiliar locale, and it returned to more familiar territory not with a whimper, but with a bang.REVIEW
What: Las Vegas Philharmonic Masterworks
When: Jan. 15
Where: Artemus Ham Hall, University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
4505 S. Maryland Parkway