Sunday, April 12, 2009

National Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra - Vivaldi & Piazolla - 04/11/09

Conductor: Piotr Gajewski
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons - Nicolas Kendall
Piazzolla: The Four Seasons - Nicolas Kendall

One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was The Four Seasons in quasi permanent heavy rotation on the turntable (Just typing this makes my hair turn gray) due to my mum's unflinching love for Vivaldi's world-famous concerto. The global and constant popularity of this ever-green composition is of course easily explained by the incredibly detailed descriptions conjured up through the vividly expressive score, creating an enchanting world of sounds and visions. Last summer, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed it with each season neatly interspersed with Piazzola's own seasons, and the result was an irresistible contrast of Baroque's elegant grace and tango's streetwise sensuality, the links between the two pieces being discreet, but unmistakable.

Yesterday, the intermission divided Vivaldi and Piazzola, with the Venetian master in first position. While it allowed for a better flow and understanding of each composition, it was not quite as much fun as the internally combined version. Local boy wonder Nicolas Kendall had the daunting task of soloing in both compositions and good-naturedly delivered the goods with plenty of youthful vitality and natural charm. Spring bristled with nature's rebirth and animal sounds, Summer brought scorching heat and a mean storm, Fall was the time for harvest celebrations and hunting, and Winter had us shiver in the cold wind and warm up by the fire. The easy rapport between violinist and conductor, and a solid back-up from the reduced Philharmonic Orchestra, created a genuinely fresh and totally enjoyable performance of this timeless masterpiece.
After the intermission, we jumped from 18th century Italy to 20th century Argentina and ended up with four seasons adroitly combining classical forms with tango, jazz, and modern harmonies. Piazzola wrote only one movement per season, and those are not as sharply distinct as Vivaldi's since atmospheric changes are not as drastically marked in Argentina, but last night they nevertheless contained various degrees of hotness brilliantly conveyed with a wide range of rhythms and sounds, including a beautifully melancholy cello solo during Fall. It was a feisty mix of languorous and infectious tempos, and smartly ended with a few notes of Vivaldi's Spring. We had come full circle.

But the evening was not over yet, and with the spontaneity of youth and the extensive skills of an old pro, Nicolas Kendall treated us to a short but really fun improvisation, where he demonstrated his talent not only at playing the violin the traditional way, but at using it as a banjo for a few country-infused seconds as well. A quick but very fitting way to end a string-centric evening.

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