Sunday, September 27, 2009

NSO - Glinka, Kodaly, Sarasate, Chopin, R. Strauss & J. Strauss, Jr. - 09/26/09

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
Kodaly: Dances of Galanta
Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen for Violin and Orchestra, op. 20 - Jozsef Lendvay, Jr.
Chopin: Piano Concerto No 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 - Evgeny Kissin
R. Strauss: "Salome's Dance"
J. Strauss, Jr: On the Beautiful Blue Danube

After my first New York Philharmonic concert of the season a couple of days ago, yesterday evening my mum and I were in the Kennedy Center concert hall for my first National Symphony Orchestra of the season. The program was a wide-ranging smorgasbord of various crowd-pleasing works, our beloved Ivan Fischer was back on the podium, and we had two special guests making their NSO debuts: Hungarian violinist Jozsef Lendvay for Sarasate's ever popular Zigeunerweisen and Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin for Chopin's youthful Piano Concerto No 2. So we did not let the pouring rain dampen our spirits and and got ready for our second musical feast of the week.

The four-minute overture to Russlan and Ludmilla was obviously programmed to give an opportunity for the audience and orchestra to get situated, well, a certain portion of the audience anyway. While the fancily dressed VIPs were taking their sweet old time smooching all the way to their seats, Ivan Fischer thankfully decided to get things started and authoritatively led a sparkling opening number.
Then he reconnected with his Hungarian roots via Kodaly's delightful Dances of Galanta, the composer's hometown. This unique combination of Hungarian folk music and Western classical music in the 150-year old verbunkos style produced a lively festival of colorful melodies and ever-changing moods and tempos. Conductor and musicians made sure to convey the boundless liveliness of the music throughout the whole concert hall, and they fully succeeded.
As things were heating up, next was Sarasate's tour de force inspired by the Gypsy airs he had heard during his extended concert tours in Hungary. Add a bit a Spanish fire and a couple of playful pizzicatos to the mix and the result is a breath-taking wild ride, which virtuoso violinist Jozsef Lendvay masterfully handled. Va-va-voom!
After a glass of champagne during the intermission and the obligatory speeches right after, it was another virtuoso who took the stage in the person of former child prodigy Eygeny Kissin for the first piano concerto Chopin ever wrote (Its higher opus is due to a later publication date). Equally at ease with the dreamy poetry and the dramatic passion of the score, Kissin gracefully let the quiet beauty of the music shine through.
After Chopin's subtle intricacies, the fiery first notes of "Salome's Dance" were quite a rude awakening, albeit a welcome one. A big success ever since its premiere, no doubt thanks to its provocative attack on morality and uncompromisingly modern musical style, Strauss' Salome has never ceased to stir reactions. Deeply symbolic of the adolescent princess' relationship to Jochanaan, the luxurious "Dance of the Seven Veils" oozes unrestrained teenage moodiness and irrepressible sexual craving. Last night, the NSO was apparently having a field day making all the wildness and depravity of the famed dance come alive loud and clear. This is definitely not music for the faint of heart, but then, why would the faint of heart be interested in Salome?
As we were finally catching our breath after the heroine's collapse at Herod's feet, we were quickly transported to imperial Vienna by way of the Beautiful Blue Danube. Although I am not a huge fan of waltzes in general, I have to admit that this one usually hits the right spot and yesterday was no exception. Its voluptuous rhythms and and infectious melodies merrily conjured up fancy balls of a past era and brought the official opening program to a happy ending.

But the audience wasn't quite ready to call it a night just yet, so Ivan Fischer obliged with a dynamite version of Dvorak's "Slavonic Dances", actually ending this first concert of the season with a resounding fireball.

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