Sunday, May 31, 2009

National Philharmonic - Wagner, Dvorak, Saint-Saëns & Mahler - 05/31/09

Conductor: Piotr Gajewski
Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistersinger
Dvorak: Romance for Violin in F Minor, Op. 11 - Soovin Kim
Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 - Soovin Kim
Mahler: Symphony No 1 in D Major, "Titan"

Summer's here and the 2008-2009 regular concert/opera season is slowly moving to an end with performances already few and far between. This afternoon, The National Philharmonic was presenting an interesting last hooray with the help of the young but already much awarded Soovin Kim, who was there to contribute on the two unabashedly crowd-pleasing Romantic solo pieces. Bookending them were different but deeply connected works from the same period, Wagner being Mahler's major source of inspiration. The beautiful weather unfortunately lured many people to stay outside, therefore the Strathmore concert hall looked sparsely filled, but the dedicated crowd was rewarded with a very enjoyable concert.

Wagner's grand prelude to his only comic opera is a work that can easily stand on its own, and has actually been doing just that pretty much since it was composed. Featuring the master's trademark powerful sound, it was a gripping and rousing way to get things started.
Sharply contrasting with Wagner's big entrance was Dvorak's lovely Romance for Violin. Contemplative and melancholy, it got the elegant treatment it deserves in the decidedly savvy hands of Soovin Kim. The orchestra smartly held back, and let the quiet lyricism of the Romance delicately shine.
Camille Saint-Saëns' much beloved Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso was another perfect summer afternoon violin-centric treat with its strong Spanish flavor and syncopated rhythms. Technically challenging for the soloist and a lot of fun for the listener, it easily dazzled the audience with its infectious nature and intrinsic charm.
Thanks to, or maybe because of, a difficult gestation, Mahler's symphony No 1 remains a sumptuously complicated gift that keeps giving. Its long first movement started slowly with a thrilling evocation of various sounds of nature, and was followed by the waltzy rhythms of a rustic Austrian ländler. The third movement, well-known for uniquely incorporating "Frère Jacques" into a funeral march worked beautifully and even made the odd combination sound natural. Starting with a few steamrolling notes, the last movement brought some of the previous ideas together into an eventually grand Finale. Clearly in his element and relishing every minute of it, maestro Gajewski kept pretty much everything under control, especially a tight brass section that proved its hair-raising efficiency when it counted, and concluded the National Philharmonic Orchestra's season with a memorable bang!

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