Jan. 11 2018 09:27 AM

Berlin horn master, Lansing Symphony generate solar power


Coming near the end of a string of subzero days and nights, at the post-holiday nadir of winter gloom, the golden horn, golden tone and golden grin of soloist David Cooper was the most timely musical intervention the Lansing Symphony has performed on the shivering city in many a year.

Cooper got a joyful welcome from a packed house at Saturday night’s Master- Works concert. The experience heightened by an astronomically rare convergence of circumstances.

Not only is Cooper, 33, the principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, but he also happens to be a native of Delta Township. Cooper went to school in Grand Ledge, not DeWitt, as I erroneously reported in my previous story.

Cooper looked thrilled to be back home.

He made the unlikely combination of geewhiz, spike-haired wonderment, and the lofty horn mastery of a mythical Greek demigod, seem perfectly natural.

Cooper is used to playing with the greatest orchestras and conductors in the world, Berlin foremost, but LSO maestro Timothy Muffitt and the orchestra synched up with him almost seamlessly.

In the tradition of the best LSO guest soloists, Cooper and the orchestra fed off each other’s energy. His glinting instrument was the sun to the orchestra’s 80 solar panels deployed at maximum angle.

They played the sometimes corny and pompous horn concerto of Russian composer Reinhold Glière with almost languorous appreciation, as if it were Wagner or Tchaikovsky.

There’s nothing more exposed or difficult to get right than a horn solo, let alone a wallto-wall marathon like this. But with Cooper, it was nothing but net.

The problem with perfection is that it can make you glaze over after a while, but not when this much love is at the core of the fire. Each note floated from Cooper’s horn, with no sharp angles or corners, like a globule of molten light, sometimes in the form of tiny beads that vanished as fast as they appeared, sometimes in the form of long, ductile tones that extruded like thick strands of honey into the air.

Cooper grinned like a prep school forward after every cutoff, as if he couldn’t help making three-pointers left and right.

Cadenzas are generally a signal to snooze, but Cooper built a compelling dramatic arc into his solo, keeping the mind fascinated, fulfilling virtuoso expectations only as a secondary morsel for the ears.

There is a quantum physics bit at the end of the cadenza, when the notes seem to wobble in three different sectors of space at once, that Cooper sent into plasma state.

He calibrated his intensity with great care, turning down the wattage when he played figures behind the orchestra, then taking the field like Alexander the Great when it was his turn to command.

Toward the end of the first movement, he seemed to grow a third lung and a second mouth to keep the energy escalating.

The yearning slow movement, the heart of the concerto, ditches the curlicues and flourishes of the hunt and goes full-on Rachmaninoff. Again and again, Cooper responded to a sweeping melody from the orchestra, not just by echoing it, but by stroking it more fervently, muscle stirring under the skin, like a lover in an escalating romantic tryst.

The slow setup is the best part of the finale.

The woodwinds intone a low fanfare and the brass go even lower, bowing as if the Metropolitan of Moscow were about to enter the room in full ecclesiastical garb. It was a solemn moment, but didn’t last long. In rushed an almost silly jig melody, like a coterie of capering Cossacks, but Cooper and the orchestra were so deep in the zone by now they ennobled everything they touched. Somewhere in the middle of the dance, Cooper stopped the show to play a stern fanfare, answered by a solemn orchestral flourish, then deigned to join to dance himself, burnishing the music’s Russian-for-export kitsch until it sounded as grounded as the Parthenon.

The millennial advent of Cooper leaves little room to describe the night’s other delights, but they deserve mention. The evening began with a delicate, finely etched reading of Maurice Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin” and ended with a rattling, masterful romp through the bumpy, serio-comic landscape of Beethoven’s Second Symphony. The Ravel was an exquisite bouquet in which each flower had its own spirit, texture, and fragrance. Between the blossoms of “Tombeau” and the ergs of Cooper, we may have enough spring to hold us until the real sun brings real flowers.