Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WPAS - The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra - Sibelius & Rachmaninoff - 02/15/10

Conductor: Mariss Jansons
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 - Janice Jansen
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

FINALLY! After too many days of being hunkered down at home while the wintry elements were raging outside, things are slowly getting back to normal. However, I for one am still having a hard time coming to terms with the crushing disappointment that was the cancellation of Till Fellner's Beethoven recital at the National Gallery of Art on that beautiful but transportation-challenged Sunday evening. At least Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk's recital at Strathmore got rescheduled for early March. The German say "Anticipation is the best form of happiness", but I'm still expecting the actual performance to outdo my eager anticipation.
One thing for sure, nobody needed the excuse of cabin fever to get out and show up at the Kennedy Center last night. Authoritatively dubbed "the greatest orchestra in the world " by no less than venerable Gramophone, which at some point had declared itself "the greatest music magazine in the world" (I guess it takes one to know one), the Royal Concertgebouw was paying us a most welcome visit in the irresistible company of their fellow countrywoman Janice Jansen to perform Sibelius' fabulous violin concerto and Rachmaninoff's majestic symphony No 2 in a Romantic-to-the-brim program.

As much as I hate cut-and-dry ranking, I have to say that Sibelius' gripping violin concerto definitely belongs to my personal holy trinity that also includes Tchaikovsky's and Brahms' (Mendelssohn's and Bruch's hovering at extremely close proximity as well, needless to say). The Finnish composer being a first-rate violinist himself, the score makes full and dazzling use of the instrument's seemingly endless possibilities. From the hypnotic evocation of a bleak, icy landscape during the first movement to the open-hearted lyricism of the middle one, the music imperceptibly inserts itself in the listener's mind before exploding into the brilliantly electric finale. And to handle this bravura piece, what better virtuoso than fast-rising Janine Jansen, a fearless young woman who obviously hides nerves of steel under her sculptural silhouette? Taking full command of the devilishly difficult work right away, she steadily managed to combine just the right amount of exquisite finesse and uncompromising urgency in a relentlessly dynamic performance. Backed by the impeccable ensemble that is the Concertgebouw under the involved but disciplined baton of maestro Jansons, Ms Jansen swept away everything in her path in three movements and a lot of va-va-voom. Can't wait to hear her tackle the Brahms in two weeks in Philly.
Then came the roller-coaster journey that is Rachmaninoff's second symphony. Yes, the music is a bit (too much, according to some) on the sentimental side, and it does not make any apology for it. If you're the slightest into lush, sweeping sounds, it does not get much better than hearing it performed by such a perfectly unified assembly of virtuosi. Yesterday the Adagio, well-known for its two forever soaring melodies in the best Tchaikovsky tradition, turned out to be the indisputed highlight of the self-indulgent treat that is the last, but not the least, of the grand Russian Romantic symphonies. Obviously benefiting from an in-depth knowledge of this familiar territory, Mariss Jansons and the musicians played it safe-but-gratifying by unrolling the sumptuous score with passionate commitment and controlled flair, making its one-hour duration just fly by.

As if it were not enough, Mariss Jansons led the apparently tireless orchestra into an energy-filled rendition of the "Farandole" from the second suite of Bizet's L'Arlésienne and sent us off into the night with plenty of happy notes in our heads.

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