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Flute and harp take center stage at Minnesota Orchestra performance this weekend

Despite its small scale, the flute has been demonstrated to be among the most resonant of musical instruments.

Despite its small scale, the flute has been demonstrated to be among the most resonant of musical instruments. The much larger harp, not so much.

One could have guessed that the composer who pioneered this pairing of instruments would be Mozart, master of seemingly all classical forms, whose “Concerto for Flute and Harp” will be performed by the Minnesota Orchestra this weekend.

Although Chopin, Bizet and Debussy would eventually make more intimate music for flute and harp, the Mozart concerto stands among the first, and best, efforts to conjoin them with orchestra. It is extremely melodic and gay, with the two leads trading off on melody and support and engaging in a spirited rondo in the third and concluding movement.

The harp features are almost exclusively pizzicato, devoid of glissandi, and written in places as if it were a piano. This heightens the challenge for Kathy Kienzle, principal harpist for the Minnesota Orchestra since 1993, the year after her weekend co-star, flautist Wendy Williams, joined the orchestra.

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Here is a rendition of the concerto’s concluding Rondo, my favorite part of the piece.

Russian compositions flank the Mozart on either side of this program. The opener is Alexander Borodin’s short tone poem, “In the Steppes of Central Asia.” Borodin was one of “The Five” or “Mighty Handful” who met in St. Petersburg in the mid-19th Century (others included Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) determined to create a distinctly Russian style of music not beholden to the western Europeans. “Steppes,” referred to as a “symphonic sketch” by its composer, mates Russian and Oriental musical influences in its 7-minute sonic journey along the Silk Road. Here is a version by the Sammanish Symphony.

After intermission, the orchestra will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major” under the baton of guest conductor James Gaffigan. Prokofiev wrote this extended work during the last year of World War II, and its premiere was literally heralded by sound of a nearby Moscow military garrison celebrating the Allied forces’ imminent triumph over Nazi Germany.

That said, mixed in with the inevitable passages of triumph and clashing forces in the piece are segments of more restrained and memorable beauty, such as the muted tenor of the reflective third movement and the cello portion that presaged the fireworks in the final fourth movement. (Here is the first part of that wonderful third movement and here is the fourth movement.) In all, Prokofiev’s 46-minute fifth symphony is generally considered to be his best.

Here are the complete program notes (PDF) for this weekend’s performance.

The Minnesota Orchestra performs Mozart, Prokofiev and Borodin at Orchestra Hall, Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, at 8 p.m.; tickets are $26 to $84.