Sunday, April 19, 2009

NSO - Kellogg, Mendelssohn & Tchaikovsky - 04/18/09

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Kellogg: Western Skies
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 - Leonidas Kavakos
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

It was on a beautiful spring evening that I broke the rule of avoiding to go out on Saturday nights and braved the weekend hordes at the Kennedy Center for the noble purpose of hearing Leonidas Kavakos play Mendelssohn's much beloved violin concerto. Of course, having Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 5 on the program did not hurt either, and getting to experience a world premiere about western skies sounded promising. And all these festivities were going to happen under the baton of Ivan Fischer, who has proved a wonderful fit to the NSO, so all was well last night.

Western Skies turned out to be a very nice introduction to bigger things, and was well received by an audience obviously there for the more popular works that were to follow. Colorado composer Daniel Kellogg's vivid evocations of wide-open spaces and even more wide-open skies were easy on the ear and featured big, happy colors and sounds.
Next came the main reason for my presence in the concert hall, and as soon as the hyper-famous soaring first notes of Mendelssohn's radiant violin concerto were heard, one could unmistakeably detect a hushed frisson of irrepressible joy among the concert-goers. Without overly dwelling on the composition's natural lyricism but with steady mercurial precision, Leonidas Kavakos brilliantly got the job done by displaying formidable technique and occasional break-neck urgency. His playing was fluid, the accompaniment by the NSO was solid, and the flawless performance had everybody on their feet right after the last note had faded.
Not surprisingly, Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony was another big hit, and the major reason for it was maestro Fischer's deep involvement and detailed guidance throughout the whole piece. He managed to keep all the different instruments under tight control, but never forgot to let the music breath and expand. Here again, the familiar first notes, the obstinately recurring Fate motto theme, kicked off another take-no-prisoners journey onto a higher ground. After the brooding, eclectic first movement, the second one was the quintessential Tchaikovskian love aria, exquisite without being maudlin, and the Valse a quiet respite before the vigorously triumphant Finale, complete with its grandly resounding, even borderline crassly flashy, coda. More is not always more.

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