Conductor: Ludovic Morlot
Martinu: The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca
Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32
Brahms: Piano Concerto No 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 - Markus Groh
As I'm busy packing for my flight tomorrow, I've promised myself to wrap this last post on US soil for a while so I can leave with at least a sense of (temporary) completion. Last night, the big attraction of the program was naturally eminent Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire scheduled to perform Brahms' majestic first piano concerto. A few days ago though an e-mail informed me that swine flu-related travel restrictions would keep him from flying to Washington and that younger but already much talked-about Markus Groh would be filling in for him. So let's look at the cup as half-full and go check him out. A Czech piece seemed particularly well-timed before a visit to Prague, and Tchaikovsky is of course always welcome. French conductor Ludovic Morlot was going to make his first appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra after extensive work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, among others, and the whole evening sounded pretty promising.
Inspired by The Legend of the True Cross among Piero's frescoes in the central Italian town of Arezzo, Martinu's composition was delightfully melodic and featured an especially beautiful second movement, the one dedicated to Constantine's Dream. The viola solo was clear and eloquent, and certainly a breath-holding moment for the audience.
After the serenity of the Frescoes, we were off to furiously loud Sturm and Drang in Tchaikovsky's version of Dante's Inferno with unabashedly resonating brass and stirringly present strings. The tragic story of Francesca and Paolo gave the orchestra no rest, but its conductor managed to keep everything under control.
Last, but by no means least, came... the concerto. Its last place on the program may seem odd until one notices its gloriously symphonic proportions and realizes that it would be a dreadfully tough act to follow indeed. Typical of the relentless perfectionist that Brahms was, this concerto went through a lot of changes and rewrites, which did not prevent a disastrous first introduction to the public. But the world eventually came to its senses and nowadays regularly gets to relish its Beethovian scope and Schumannian poetry. Yesterday evening, after a stormy, immense opening, Markus Groh gently took charge of the solo part and pretty much remained on top of it until the very end. The composition is so rich and involving in its unrestrained romanticism that it is hard to take it all in in one sitting, but it was also a real joy to hear it play with such assertiveness and grace. He did not make us forget Nelson Freire, but he sure make an excellent case for himself.
So this is it for now. Tomorrow I'm leaving for a trip to some of Eastern Europe's most captivating cities to attend hopefully just as captivating performances and shall return in a couple of weeks. To be continued...
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