Sunday, March 1, 2009

NSO - Adès, Stravinsky & Weill - 02/27/09

Adès: "Overture, Waltz and finale" from Powder Her Face
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D Major - Gil Shaham
Weill: Suite from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny
Stravinsky: Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss

After two very fulfilling concerts earlier this week and an early wake-up call scheduled for the next morning, I was questioning the sanity of adding yet another musical outing to my busy calendar. But the thought of hearing the brilliant violinist Gil Shaham play Stravinky's stylish violin concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra was just too tempting to perish. The relatively short commute between the Kennedy Center and my place and his performing in the first part of the program, therefore allowing for an early and quick escape, decisively tipped the more-than-willing scales into just stopping the mulling over and going already.

Things started vigorously with the young and fast-rising Finnish conductor Hannu Linu energetically leading a NSO in fine form into a rousingly languorous fox-trot, of all things. Adès' "Overture, Waltz, and Finale" from Powder Her Face, his 1995 chamber opera narrating the eventful life of the Duchess of Argyll, is a strange but attractive beast, with vivid evocations of her glittery past, notorious trial and final sordid situation. Accordingly, the music ranged from loud and assertive to a more gentle waltz, reminiscent of happier times, before the mercilessly biting grand finale, eventually ending in a quiet whisper.
With the wide grin of a mischievous kid wearing his father's oversize fancy outfit, the ever-jovial Gil Shaham made his most welcome appearance on the stage, and without further ado, he and the orchestra got right down to business. Although it lasts a mere 22 minutes, Stravinsky's concerto makes sure the soloist remains almost constantly engaged for the whole duration of the tightly constructed piece. With no room for aimless wandering or in-your-face razzle-dazzle, it nevertheless keeps the audience on their toes with a constant flow of surprises. Friday evening, the highlights included the exquisitely lyrical second aria and the fun-filled, exuberant capriccio. Solidly, occasionally too much so, backed by the orchestra, Gil Shaham gave an impeccably virtuosic and entertaining performance, easily connecting with Hannu Lintu and Nurit Bar-Josef, the always dependable concertmaster, with frequent winks and nods of genuine complicity and pure enjoyment.

My mission accomplished, common sense still prevailed and I did leave during intermission. Luckily, the two pieces in the second half of the program were not enticing enough to me to create a real dilemma, so I headed home with no remorse and no regrets.

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