Friday, April 24, 2009

NSO - Webern, Schoenberg & Brahms - 04/23/09

Conductor: David Zinman
Webern: Langsamer Satz
Schoenberg: Verklärt Nacht, Op. 4
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Strings, strings and even more strings. That's what the NSO’s program was promising last night, and by Jove! that’s what they delivered. I have to confess that if it hadn’t been for Brahms’ grand Symphony No 4, I would have been more than hesitant to spend yet another evening in a concert hall, but the outing turned out a complete success. Even if the names Webern and Schoenberg typically do not stir the slightest urge to drop everything and get a concert ticket, the two string orchestra versions of chamber music works from these coetaneous composers were pleasant evocations of the late-Romantic mood that was prevalent in turn-of-the-century Vienna. Visiting conductor David Zinman, back in our neck of the woods years after his tenure as the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, kept things under tight but generous control, and we did get to hear all those strings splendidly sing.

In the steadily progressing evening, the short piece by Webern was a sparse introduction to bigger things. The Langsamer Satz was slow, indeed, and conveyed the simple joys of life with delicacy and conviction.
After his student’s subtle piece, Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night was another feast for the ears of strings lovers. Inspired by a poem from Richard Dehmel’s collection Weib und Welt ("Woman and World") and originally written as a string sextet, it easily expanded into a gently lyrical depiction of a moonlight night, dripping lush Romanticism all over the place... and some. It is hard to believe that the first performance of this strikingly atmospheric tone poem, in its original form, sparked off riots and controversy, but conservative spirits have never been particularly known for their open-mindedness, have they?
The strings were finally joined by other instruments for Brahms’ final symphony, and worked in perfect unison to make beautiful music together. The first movement grabbed the audience by the throat, and off we went. The second one, a personal favorite, was all warm tones and attractive melodies, but even the last two radiated concentrated energy and remarkable clarity. Famous for its austerity, which owed it some inauspicious beginnings, last night’s interpretation was still no less than inspiring, and we all went home happy.

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