With so many terrific new concertos surfacing over the last 20 years, young musicians have fewer reasons to look into the distant past for works of middling quality that aren't entirely inspiring.
Such was partly the story with the Astral Rising Stars concert, the annual event when emerging musicians from the Astral Artists roster play larger works in the acoustically friendly Perelman Theater, this time with the Temple Symphony Orchestra under Luis Biava. Astral's chamber concerts during the year prove often-considerable depth of artistry; this one is also about functioning in the orchestral marketplace.
The program Wednesday began with two works reflecting good strategic thinking despite drawbacks - Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Sara Daneshpour, and Mercadante's Flute Concerto in E minor Op. 57 with Julietta Curenton. Lucky for the audience, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Kristin Lee was all you could hope for.
The early-period Chopin concerto is basically a star vehicle that only intermittently responded to Daneshpour's restrained Mozartean style, though the aria-like slow movement showed solid insights rendered with much grace.
In contrast, the Mercadante concerto's similarly lyrical slow movement was treated by Curenton as an aria without words, but one in which the soloists knew precisely what the words were. Who cares if this is what Mercadante intended? Here, the soloist must bring more to the piece than what the page implies. But as organic and artistic as Curenton's choices were, the piece itself is so medium-voltage, it's limited in what it offers a musician with her broad points of reference.
The Temple orchestra musicians under Biava's solid direction could have used some extra-Mercadante stimulation as well.
The Tchaikovsky concerto isn't exactly heavyweight, but one of classical music's great personalities is behind it, one that Lee fully embraced. Rather miraculously, Lee maintained her saturated tone even during the busiest passages. Usually, you accept that you're going to hear more sweat than tears in such passagework. But the extra gleam she brought added a poetic dimension to the music in what was, overall, a fresh, finished, polished rendering of what can often feel like a warhorse.