Sunday, July 18, 2010

BSO - All-Tchaikovsky - 07/17/10

Conductor: Christian Colberg
Capriccio italien, Op. 45
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 - Sirena Huang
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 - Conrad Tao

Although its regular concert season was over, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra pulled one more not-to-be-missed program out of its seemingly bottomless hat last night with the double-whammy of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and piano concerto. Two of the world's most rightfully popular musical masterpieces, they are particularly welcome on a leisurely summer evening when their luscious melodies and virtuoso tricks offer a perfectly seasoned dish of top-quality comfort food. Both concertos would be performed by disgustingly young and talented musicians, violinist Sirena Huang and pianist Conrad Tao, who at barely 16 already have careers most adult musicians would kill for. And they're apparently just warming up, so let us be warned. Last, and in that case probably least, the Russian master's delightful Capriccio italien was set to open the evening in the impressively crowded Strathmore concert hall.

Alternating powerful fanfares and lighter tunes, Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien was a welcome breath of fresh air, reliably prepping our ears for the bigger and better things to come.
Tchaikovsky's stunning violin concerto needs no introduction, mostly because the public decided a long time ago that the unsuspecting critics who mercilessly dissed the piece when it first came out were just a bunch of hopeless ignoramuses. Moreover, they eventually all died while the concerto has lived on, so there. Although still in her teenage years, Sirena Huang immediately demonstrated plenty of technique and heart while assuredly churning out Tchaikovsky's sparkling melody lines. Unlike some of the lightning-fast versions I've heard in the past, this concerto was blissfully allowed to soar and breathe, giving us the opportunity to seize and savor its myriads of multi-layered intricacies. Can't wait to hear her tackle the Brahms!
Then we were on to the next prodigy of the evening, Conrad Tao, who was playing children's songs on the piano at 18 months and gave his first recital at the ripe age of... 4. Here again, the work was originally pronounced an utter failure, this time by no less than the composer's close friend Nikolai Rubinstein, eminent pianist and conductor. Again, the master, shaken but not stirred, carried on with the enthusiastic support of celebrated pianist Hans von Bülow and the piece has remained part of the classic répertoire ever since. Embarking on Tchaikovsky's piano concerto No 1 may be one of the most daunting rites of passage for any aspiring pianist, and yesterday we were only too happy to be part of it. Brazenly opening with the startling horns, the concerto quickly launched into the famously sweeping melody that will never be heard again. From the grand Romantic feelings to the more subdued poetic moods, Conrad Tao handled it all with more stamina than thoughtfulness, but that perfect balance definitely sounds within his grasp.

As the clapping was winding down, the Russian Romantic vibes lingered on as our pianist came back for a happily perky Prelude in B-flat Minor Op. 23 No 2 by Rachmaninoff. A lovely ending to a lovely evening that even the usher next to me, loudly unwrapping candies during the violin concerto and energically scratching her ear during the piano concerto, did not manage to spoil.

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