Friday, November 21, 2008

NSO - Dvorak, Mozart & Schmidt - 11/20/08

Conductor: Yakov Kreizberg
Dvorak: Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Mozart: Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor, K. 466 - Lars Vogt
Schmidt: Symphony No 4 in C Major

The main attraction of last night's National Symphony Orchestra concert was no doubt the brilliant young German pianist Lars Vogt, who has become quite a sensation on the international music scene these past few years. The other eminent guest was the conductor Yakov Kreizberg, a familiar fixture in all the major concert halls in Europe. The program was a little bit of everything, with an overture by Dvorak, the piano concerto No 20 by Mozart, and the NSO first performance ever of Schmidt’s Symphony No 4. The only connection I could make out among such an eclectic list was between Dvorak and Schmidt whose works have identical way of beginning and ending, by repeating the same piece. Not much, but unusual enough to be note-worthy.

The concert started with Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, a short and joyful piece, and one of the composer’s best contributions to the genre. Sandwiched between exuberant carnival music, the two middle movements were notably slower and discreetly melodious.
Next was one of Mozart’s most “Romantic” works, composed during his golden decade in Vienna, when he was fully immersed in the imperial capital’s musical life. It is a wonderful piece, and yesterday Lars Vogt made sure to emphasize all its extensive emotional range. The tension of the first movement, the lyricism of the second one and the bright mood of the last one were all precisely conveyed by the pianist’s detailed and passionate playing. The result was simply divine, and it is easy to guess that the dramatic intensity it exudes is probably what made it the only Mozart concerto Beethoven ever performed, even writing down his own cadenza.
After such a transporting experience, Schmidt’s symphony was kind of anti-climatic. It was an engaging but generally very sad piece, played without pauses between the four movements. The opening and closing trumpet solo underlined the gloomy mood that lingered most of the time, and which may be explained by the death of Schmidt’s daughter in childbirth right before he started working on the composition. Yakov Kreizberg kept things moving along without dwelling too deep in the most morbid passages, but concentrating on the few brighter spots instead. The cello solo opening the third movement was a beautifully lyrical moment in itself and one of the highlights of the work.

An amusing aside is that the master of the evening, maestro Kreizberg, turned out to be a very different conductor from Gustavo Dudamel, who was occupying the very same spot a mere 48 hours before. The young Venezuelan golden boy gave way to the mature old-European pro, and instead of bounceful energy and flying black curls we got an aristocratic demeanor and sharp gesturing. Each style, however, proved very successful in their own right, and Washingtonians should feel all but very grateful for having the privilege of witnessing such contrasting talents in such a short period of time.

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