Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Mozart: Symphony No 31 in D Major, "Paris"
Bruch: Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 46 - Joshua Bell
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
Three hours after the Met's delightful Zauberflöte, I was getting mentally prepared for more "light" Mozart with his bubbly Paris symphony. This lesser known piece by the Austrian composer was opening an attractive, if not particularly cutting-age, program including also Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and Brahms's Symphony No 4. I have to say that although I find the Scottish Fantasy appealing, I still prefer Bruch's hyper-Romantic violin concerto, but granted, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night in New York City than hearing the former performed by Joshua Bell. Brahms' fourth symphony is of course one of those mighty, timeless masterpieces, and having the Royal Opera House's Antonio Pappano in charge of it all sounded like an intriguing adventure.
Mozart's Paris symphony turned out to be a judicious concert starter because it perfectly combined the charm and the grandeur of the City of Lights. It also sparkled with a lighter touch that usual for the Austrian master, a slightly different touch that he mustered probably out of consideration for the Parisian audience who is generally more in tune with unabashed joie de vivre than its sterner neighbors to the east. In any case, it was lovely, bristling with pretty harmonies, offering just enough substance not to disappear into thin air with the last note and concluding my Mozart marathon with panache.
Written a decade after his famous violin concerto in G Minor, the full title of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy says it all: Fantasia for Violin with Orchestra and Harp, with Free Use of Scottish Folk Melodies. By liberally drawing inspiration from Scottish folk songs and the writings of Sir Walter Scott, the German composer came up with an eclectic work in which deep brooding and exuberant rejoicing are closely intertwined. Such a truly virtuosic piece requires a truly virtuosic violinist, and we naturally had one in Joshua Bell. Switching moods with remarkable ease and making his violin radiantly sing, he assuredly let the big Romantic waves and the joyful dance tunes mix and mingle for an all-around memorable result.
Brahms' Symphony No 4 is probably the musical work I've heard the most often in concert halls, but its endlessly complex nature makes listening to it a brand new journey each and every time. Grabbing the audience's attention from the very first notes, the opening movement's melodic power intensely displays the duality of emotions, deep sadness and serene happiness, that will remain constantly present in the whole score, and does it with poignant bitterweetness. Being conducted by an opera expert actually did wonders to the composition as maestro Pappano gave extra urgency to the dramatic passages and an additional boost to the well-crafted melodies, decisively steering away from the original composition's intellectual slant for a more visceral approach. Even Brahms, a notorious opera hater, might have been pleased. I sure was.