Saturday, January 10, 2009

NSO - Prokofiev, Schumann & Beethoven - 01/08/09

Conductor: Philippe Jordan
Prokofiev: Symphony No 1 in D Major, Op. 25, "Classical"
Schumann: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129 - Lynn Harrell
Beethoven: Symphony No 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60

It was about time! After a meager, to say the least, December, my new year on the musical front finally started with an über-classical program (Not that there's anything wrong with that) on Thursday at the Kennedy Center concert hall where the National Symphony Orchestra welcomed a special guest conductor, the young but already in much demand Philippe Jordan, and a special guest soloist, the not as young but definitely in as much demand cellist Lynn Harrell. Needless to say I had passed the point of being picky, and it was quite a relief to be back for a clean, nice and proper, if somewhat predictable, concert. Anything to assuage these painfully increasing withdrawal symptoms!

The evening started on a decidedly promising note with the enfant terrible of 20th century music, who also happens to be on my favorite composer short list: Sergei Prokofiev. One of his most successful works, the Classical stands out for being short (only 15 minutes) and staying away from the sometimes excessive sentimentality of Russian Romanticism. Composed in four movements, two of which directly inspired by Haydn, it is both a charmingly playful miniature and a sure sign of the wild eclecticism already prevailing in Prokofiev's then emerging career. It starts with a first movement that could be all tradition if not for the occasional quirks adding an unusual flair to it. The second movement, featuring a soaring melody and a delightful pizzicato, is quickly followed by a fun French Gavotte, and it all ends in a brilliant, breathless romp full of agility and exuberance. The orchestra quickly dove into it, and there was no stopping them under the graceful baton of maestro Jordan. It was a quick affair, but it sure hit the right spot.
Schumann's cello concerto had a tough time following such a bright opening. I've never been a big fan of his, and this piece did not change my mind, but it was certainly pleasant enough. Heeding the composer's instructions, its three movements were blissfully played without interruption, thus allowing the musicians and the audience to really dwell into its largely contemplative mood before the virtuosic ending. Lynn Harrell blended well with the orchestra and his lovely duo with the principal cellist was undeniably the highlight of the piece.
Beethoven's fourth symphony definitely seemed the most appropriate one among his oeuvre to wrap up such a dignified evening. The understated but still very present quality of its melodies and the general richness of the whole score may still not make it as extraordinary as some of the composer's ground-breaking work, but it possesses a sense of proportions and balance that gives it a truly unique appeal. Thursday's performance of it was a real treat to the ears and beautifully concluded what turned out to be, all things considered, a pretty satisfying concert.

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