Friday, October 3, 2008

NSO - Beethoven & Shostakovich - 10/02/08

Conductor: Miguel Harth-Bedoya
Beethoven: Overture to The Consecration of the House, Op. 124
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 - Hélène Grimaud
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

Since the Kennedy Center has for the time being apparently become my home away from home, I was back yesterday evening, by myself, for a National Symphony Orchestra concert with Hélène Grimaud and special guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. I had meant to hear the celebrated French pianist quite a few times in the past, but life had always intervened, so that was an opportunity not to be missed.

The first piece by Beethoven, the overture to The Consecration of the House, was pleasantly appealing with a baroque flair to it.
The second piece, Beethoven’s piano concerto No. 4 with Hélène Grimaud, was much more substantial and had the particularity of starting with a short piano monologue, which was pretty much a first at the time. It was a beautiful voyage, from the poetic beginning to the fierce ending, and it was beautifully played, with understatement and rigor. The perfect introduction to the piece and the pianist.
The evening was concluded by Shostakovich's popular Symphony No. 5, a brilliant work that can be appreciated even without any knowledge of the social-political situation in Russia at the time. After riling Stalin with his wildly successful, but definitely not politically correct, opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the embattled composer was compelled to accept the subtitle "A Soviet artist's creative response to just criticism" for his fifth symphony, which he completed in a mere three months. However, while some degree of awareness of the "Stalin issue" probably provides useful background to interpret the various moods across the four movements, not to mention the controversial finale, this is undoubtedly an exciting piece of music that can easily stand on its own. The fact that the meaning of the "victory song" triumphantly ending the symphony has been so hotly and inconclusively debated makes it even more gripping, and last night its sheer force resonated long after the orchestra stopped playing.

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