Sunday, October 26, 2008

NSO - Weiner, Haydn & Rachmaninoff - 10/24/08

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Weiner: Serenade, Op. 3
Haydn: Cello Concerto in C Major – Steven Isserlis
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

I’m a firm believer that the best way to get back into the swing of things is, well, to get back into the swing of things. Therefore, after landing in our nation’s capital on Thursday afternoon and a blurry-but-hopefully-fairly-efficient day in the office on Friday, I’m back at the Kennedy Center that evening for a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra. Although the program certainly looked attractive, I had questioned the good sense of getting a ticket for it before I left as I had no idea in what kind of shape I’d be back in. Upon my return, while still facing my should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dilemma, what with the creeping fatigue and a blinding headache, my good friend Pat called and offered me a free ticket. The dilemma was over, and I was on.
Quite a few additional factors were already tipping my decision towards the “go” option. I’ve always had a soft spot for Russian composers, and Rachmaninoff has always been high on my list of favorites. And although I can’t say that Haydn would make me drop everything and rush to a concert hall, the prospect of witnessing popular cellist Steven Isserlis’ long overdue debut with the NSO was definitely an enticing thought. Plus what better way to make my return to DC official?

The first piece and its author were completely unknown to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed its light, melodic quality. A successful mix of Hungarian folk tradition and German Romanticism, the serenade was quite a tour de force for a 21-year old composer, who became quite famous and highly regarded in Hungary. On Friday evening, it obviously brought out the Hungarian in Ivan Fischer, and he led the orchestra in an assured, polished performance.
Next was Haydn’s awaited cello concerto. A favorite of the late Rostropovich, this is quite a delightful piece and Isserlis’ precise performance, all the more emphasized by a greatly reduced orchestra, was a perfect example of how to successfully combine of lyricism and technique. This belated debut was definitely worth the wait.
After the intermission, the orchestra back in full force whole-heartedly dove into Rachmaninoff’s second symphony. This is big, luscious, sweeping romantic music, and it was wonderful. Although my attention was slowly, but surely waning, I still fully enjoyed everything that came to me, from the dark melancholy beginning the symphony to the lovely violin melody starting the exquisite adagio, all the way to the triumphant ending. This is the kind of music that can easily submerge you, and I was more than happy to be carried away in its far-reaching currents.

Now it’s onward and forward to a weekend including Lucia de Lammermoor at the Met on Saturday and Bernstein’s Mass by the BSO back at the Kennedy Center on Sunday. What does not kill you makes you stronger!

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