Conductor: Piotr Gajewski
Mozart: Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio
Bruch: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No 1 in G Minor, Op. 26 - Soovin Kim
Mahler: Symphony No 4 in G Major - Arianna Zukerman
I may have slightly (oh, so slightly) complained last weekend about getting to hear Bruch's lovely Scottish Fantasy instead of his more thrilling (at least to my ears) violin concerto in G Minor, so fate intervened in having the National Philharmonic programmed the popular concerto this weekend at Strathmore. Solidly book-ended by Mozart's delightful overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio and Mahler's sunny (well, sunnier than usual) fourth symphony, it was an irresistible offer, and I did not hesitate to brave the bitterly cold weather and scheduled-but-still-annoying metro delays due to track maintenance to get to the afternoon performance. Once in the music center, I came across a surprise concert by four students of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras down in the lower lobby. Nothing like a movement by Borodin or Mozart to get you in the mood for more!
Mozart's first full-length opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was a stupendous success even if the Austrian Emperor Joseph II, who had commissioned it, promptly stated after hearing it that it had "too many notes" for the Viennese. It is indeed "busy" Turkish music, bright and melodic, clearly evoking the exotic setting the story is about to take place in, but all the notes are definitely worth-keeping.
After Mozart's perky opening, Bruch's violin concerto slowly started, all understated and mysterious, before launching into the free-spirited Allegro Moderato. Unabashedly lyrical, and no doubt even more so thanks to the expert contribution of Joseph Joachim, who knew a thing or two about Romantic concertos, the score assertively puts the violin front and center as it lets it unfold seemingly endless florid lines. Young Soovin Kim gave it a warm, comfortable treatment, although he did not go for the larger-than-life approach that may have been more appropriate for such a glorious masterpiece. Under maestro Gajewski's baton, the orchestra was respectfully present, offering a discreet but indispensable support to the virtuosic soloist.
Then we were on to Mahler "light", which is of course a relative term when you're talking about the master of grand brooding. Shorter and often displaying an uplifted mood, it is probably the most accessible, and therefore the most popular, of all Mahler's symphonies. Opening with happily ringing bells, the composition is complex but still easy on the ears. The Ruhevoll or slow movement does express a Mahlerian quietness and simple beauty before ending with Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), from a folk song well-known in Bavaria and Romania. Our soprano du jour was Arianna Zukerman, and her voice, somewhat muffled at the beginning, eventually rose and nicely inserted itself in the soft finale, making it a subdued ending to a lively concert.