Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Philadelphia Orchestra - Brahms & Shostakovich - 02/28/10

Conductor: Charles Dutoit
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 - Janice Jansen
Shostakovich: Symphony No 11 in G Minor, Op. 103, "The Year 1905"

As hard as it was to believe, that time of the year was upon us again today! After 11 long months of burning anticipation, Heidi and I were back in her station wagon (Oops! I mean SUV. Well, one of these big things) on the road to Philadelphia to meet our friends Meg, David and Matìas for brunch and my now traditional belated-but-so-worth-it Christmas gift. The eagerly awaited present was dispensed this year again in the form of tickets to the prestigious Philadelphia Orchestra, which would for the occasion be conducted by Charles Dutoit and welcome Dutch virtuoso Janine Jansen. The program consisted in two works (but what works!) by Brahms and Shostakovich. Side by side, their names can appear like an odd association, but since even one of them would have easily justified the trip, the two together were just too good to be pass.

Brahms's hyper-Romantic violin concerto needs no introduction and spotting it on a concert program never fails to make my day. It is the musical piece I've heard the most often, bar none, and that status is unlikely to change any time soon as it is one of those classics frequently performed to ecstatic audiences all around the world. This afternoon, Janine Jansen displayed the same impressive chops she demonstrated a couple of weeks ago at the Kennedy Center, effortlessly going from Sibelius' icy brilliance to Brahms' unrestrained lyricism. The opulent richness of the first movement being a dazzling treasure chest of gorgeous melodies, it is hard to believe that the rest of the score measures up, but it does. The exquisite Adagio, in which the oboe and the violin gracefully compete for attention, is a little jewel in itself, and the final explosion routinely concludes things with sparkling exuberance. Earlier today, the Philadelphia Orchestra proved once more that it is staying at the top of its game with tightness, fluidity and flair, the ideal respectful accompaniment to our radiant soloist.
After Brahms' lush Romanticism, the time had come for one of Shostakovich's beautifully gripping symphonies. The man had the knack to make even the depressing and turbulent sound incredibly good, and his Symphony No 11 is no exception. Allegedly inspired by a bloodily repressed popular uprising in St Petersburg in 1905 as well as the brutally put down Hungarian revolution in 1956, its four movements, based on old Russian tunes and performed without a pause, strikingly combine the stirring quietness of death and the rousing sounds associated with rightful upheavals. There was obviously a lot going on and maestro Dutoit managed to keep everything under tight control, eliciting clear and unified sounds from all the various sections of the orchestra, including the less frequently highlighted instruments such as the violas, the harps and some of the timpani. Today, all of them got their turn in the spotlight at some point during the sprawling hour and the result was an all-encompassing musical feast. Sometimes, more is more.

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