Tuesday, February 22, 2011

BSO - Rossini, Chopin and Tchaikovsky - 02/19/11

Conductor: Hans Graf
Rossini: Overture to William Tell
Chopin: Piano Concerto No 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 – Ingrid Fliter
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 2 in C Minor, Op. 17, “Little Russian”

After already over three months of fully enjoying life as a New York City resident, I figured that it was high time to take a small trip down memory lane (via the New Jersey Turnpike and the 95) to Washington, DC. All I needed was the right opportunity, and it soon presented itself in the form of highly regarded Argentinean pianist Ingrid Fliter, who was coming to town to play Chopin’s piano concerto No 2 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore. I frankly would have preferred to hear her in a tête-à-tête with the French composer through the course of an intimate recital, but one can only nitpick so much. As two extra incentives, Rossini’s ever-popular overture to William Tell and Tchaikovsky’s unexpectedly bubbly "Little Russian" Symphony would complete a comfortably eclectic program. So it was with high spirits and an agenda as packed as a foreign dignitary on an official visit that I eagerly headed for our nation’s capital on Friday evening.

I understand that for the past 50 years, a lot of Americans have become acquainted with William Tell’s overture through the radio and TV series The Lone Ranger and some commercials. Since I did not grow up in the US and do not have a television, this smashing little tune is still for me first and foremost associated to, well, Rossini. Moreover, I think it is totally unfair to reduce this truly inspired four-movement tone poem to its immediately infectious yes, but still only one quarter of the whole piece, finale. As far as I am concerned, the haunting cello-driven opening, the mighty storm rolling through the second movement and the authentic Swiss ranz des vaches ("call to the cows") are just as attention-worthy as the exhilaratingly galloping ending. After showing up late due to adverse traffic conditions, the BSO wasted no time launching into a vibrant but nevertheless fully controlled performance of it under the unflappable baton of visiting maestro Hans Graff. Things had - finally - started with a fabulous bang.
The effervescent atmosphere went down a few notches for Chopin’s concerto. Although in my eyes (and ears) the composer is best appreciated through his solo work, having Ingrid Fliter channel and interpret his musical musings was way too good of an offer to pass. And there she was, inconspicuously highlighting the attractively sing-songy quality of the music with plenty of sensitivity and technique. The second movement, in particular, during which young Frédéric expresses his lingering, undisclosed crush on a fellow student, delicately blossomed with poetic longing, violent frustration and back to all-around enchantment. I guess the solo works can wait, after all.
Piotr Tchaikovsky was well-known for wearing his big emotions (and he did have a lot of them) on his sleeve, resulting is some of the most beautifully and loudly depressing music ever. But his Symphony No 2 is drastically different in that respect. Because it is essentially a tribute to Russian folk tunes, it is by far his most cheerful work, which of course in his case does not necessarily mean that the score overflows with happy melodies, but amazingly enough, it does! Tchaikovsky was also famous for never laying off the wind or brass instruments for very long, and this sophomore symphonic effort is no exception. Accordingly, those sections of the orchestra made sure not to hold anything back on Saturday night, and the fact that our seats were directly above the orchestra - if on the side - made the whole experience even more, er, resounding. But let's not forget to also mention the impeccably soaring horn solo and the brilliantly united strings, all coming together for a thrilling ride. It was good to be back!

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