Friday, September 4, 2009

Millennium Stage - Beethoven, Prokofiev, Monti & Tchaikovsky - 09/04/09

Beethoven: Sonata No 8 for Violin and Piano in G Major, Op. 30, No 3
Prokofiev: March from The Love for Three Oranges
Monti: Czardas
Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33

After a couple of lazy summer weeks, I'm back in one of regular Washington haunts: the Kennedy Center. While I tend to go there almost every week during the regular season, my visits are few and far between during the summer months as the NSO exiles itself at Wolf Trap and the only happenings are crowd-pleasing musicals that are generally not my cup of tea. So I take a break from the place, making my heart grow fonder, and eventually return ready for a brand new season. Today, the daily free Millennium Stage had a very special program: the combined power of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky performed by three brilliant members of the much respected Washington National Opera Orchestra, who threw in a couple of last-minute surprises as well.

Beethoven's chamber music may not be as well-known as his ground-breaking symphonies, but their sheer beauty makes them hard to forget once you've had a chance to hear them. His sonata was predictably enough an immensely attractive work radiating a graceful tone and emotional power. The various combinations of the two instruments were exquisitely rendered by pianist Anna Ouspenskaya and violinist Michelle Kim, and it was a lovely way to get the over-flowing crowd in the mood.
Before moving on to Tchaikovsky, the two musicians came back with two unexpected but most welcome additions to the program. I've always had a soft spot for the short-but-packing-a-punch march from Prokofiev's opera The Love for Three Oranges, and this one and half minute of pure virtuosic fun was for sure the highlight of my day.
Then we were on to Monti's Czardas, the second out-of-the-blue treat. Inspired by the traditional Hungarian folk dance bearing the same name and featuring no less than five tempo variations, it delighted the audience by adding a lively gypsy flavor to the increasingly wide-ranging recital.
Then it was back to more classical works with Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations performed on the cello by the composer's fellow native Russian Igor Zubkovsky. After pointing out that we would be hearing the original version of the piece, he got down to business and created gorgeously lush sounds from his instrument, smartly backed up by the discreet but ever-present piano. It was a particularly tasteful interpretation of a markedly refined effort from Tchaikovsky, and it perfectly concluded this very pleasant Friday evening, uplifting our spirits even more on the eve of the Labor Day weekend.


Kim said...

Your post popped up in my RSS feed because it mentions Wolf Trap (albeit, in a not-so-positive way, but RSS feeds don't discriminate:) Anyway, I get your point about the pops nature of the NSO's summer residency - you should check out the chamber music series out here though - a nice range of things, including some meaty stuff.

Isabelle said...

Hi Kim,

Please do not get me wrong. I have actually never been to Wolf Trap, but have attended a few open air concerts in the past at other venues, and while I have enjoyed them to various degrees, I have to confess I am not too keen on outside noises (traffic, people…) that are pretty much unavoidable in the typically more casual atmosphere of an outside venue.
Add to that the location of Wolf Trap (I live in DC and do not have a car) and the unpredictability of the weather, I just abstain. I am lucky enough to have plenty of opportunities during the rest of the year, and slowing down my concert going in the summer is actually a welcome break.

I understand that Wolf Trap is a very popular venue, and deservedly so. Anything that promotes live performances in general, and classical music/opera in particular, in any context has my heart-felt approval, so please keep up the good work and I may surprise you someday :)