Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 - Vadim Repin
Prokofiev: Symphony No 5 in B-Flat Major, Op. 100
Last night’s line-up of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra sounded like a totally winning combination, even if former conductor and music director Yuri Temirkanov inexplicably bailed out a few weeks ago. I can’t imagine not grabbing yet another opportunity to hear Brahms’ lushly romantic violin concerto, this time performed by the always reliable cherubic-faced Vadim Repin, and I was also very much looking forward to my first take of Prokofiev’s popular Symphony No 5 live. This Russian-flavored program included a Gallic touch as well via the presence of French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, whose prestigious career brought him to many corners of the world, and who was more than welcome in ours.
Like most masterpieces, Brahms’ violin concerto has enough layers of complexity to keep on surprising the listener every time they get to experience it in a concert hall. Last night, I noticed some discreetly conspicuous pizzicatos that were quietly enhancing the sweepingly lyrical mood. Dedicated to his friend and colleague, the violonist Joseph Joachim, Brahms wrote a score that is a fascinating and multi-faceted challenge, and yesterday the voluptuously long first movement demonstrated one more time its symphonic proportions right away. The second movement, introduced by an oboe solo that even I found stunning (and god knows that the oboe is not high on my list of musical instruments) was delicately sweet and expansive while the finale bristled with gypsy-like joyful exuberance. Vadim Repin delivered a deeply committed performance, especially ethereal in the most poetic passages, and proved once again his remarkable talent.
Next, it was time for what many, including the man himself, consider Prokofiev’s best symphonic work. Although he is one of my favorite composers, I have to confess that my knowledge of his oeuvre is far from exhaustive, but so far I have to agree. Written as the tide of World War II was turning, his 5th symphony was premiered in Moscow on January 13, 1945, and maestro Prokofiev waited patiently until the cannons outside were done thunderously announcing the Soviet army's cross-over into Nazi Germany's territory before raising his baton. Talk about incredible timing for this epic tribute to the Russian people during those trying times! On that evening the symphony majestically unrolled its four very distinct movements and swept everybody away, just like it did yesterday. The slow war-inspired mood was immediately gripping in all its thunder and mournful sounds. In sharp contrast to all that darkness, the second movement was a sort of caustic, macabre dance before moving into a beautifully lyrical Adagio, which eventually led to a manically optimistic grand Finale. Heroic in spirit and sound, this tumultuous adventure got a polished, assured treatment by the BSO and concluded the evening with sheer grandeur, maybe "the grandeur of the human spirit" to which Prokofiev dedicated this symphony.