Saturday, April 9, 2011

Orchestra of St. Luke's - Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky & Dvorak - 04/06/11

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Prokofiev: Symphony No 1 in D Major, Op. 25, (“Classical”)
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 – Nikolaj Znaider
Dvorak: Symphony No 7 in D Minor, Op. 70

Sometimes, the names of the musicians and the titles of the pieces on a program sound just like the ideal cocktail for a memorable evening, and you know you just have to go. That is exactly what happened when I first saw the line-up for Wednesday’s concert at Carnegie Hall: the big attraction for me was, of course, Tchaikovsky’s stunning violin concerto, one of my first unforgettable tastes of what music was, but Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1 and Dvorak’s Symphony No 7 are no small potatoes either. The combined talents of engaging violinist Nikolaj Znaider, who keeps on moving up, up, up as a soloist, conductor and chamber musician, communicative conductor Ivan Fischer, to whom I owe some of my best NSO memories, and the ever-reliable Orchestra of St. Luke’s seemed just the most pleasurable way to end yet another hectic hump-day in the office. So I went.

For most artists, the freshman effort has often difficulties measuring up with the later, typically more well-defined and involved, works, but in his mid-twenties Prokofiev came up with a symphony so appealing that it has remained one of his most popular scores. While keeping Haydn in mind, the young composer did not hesitate to put a modern spin on the old master’s inspiration and delivered a short but immensely satisfying piece. Doing it full justice from the delightful, gracious opening to the high-spirited speed race of the last movement, Ivan Fischer kept the music vivaciously flowing from an impeccably tight orchestra.
Although Tchaikovsky’s works were rarely well-received when they first came out, quite a few of them have rightfully become some of those universally beloved classics. His famous violin concerto is definitely one of them and hearing it live in the right hands no doubt remains one of my all-time favorite musical highs. Wednesday night, energetic Nikolaj Znaider gave a muscular and invigorating interpretation of it, all singing melodies and vibrant harmonies. The orchestra provided plenty of colorful sounds of their own - almost too much so as the brass were getting close to drowning the beginning of the exquisite Canzonetta - all the way to the virtuosic pyrotechnics of the grand finale.
What to play after Tchaikovsky? Fortunately for us, Znaider decisively and masterfully resolved that thorny issue and took us on a trip back to the basics with Bach’s Sarabande for Partita No 2 in D Minor, which he beautifully carried until the very end. An unexpected but most appreciated little treat.
I’m afraid I’ll never really get Dvorak the way other people do, but I am still working on it regardless. His Symphony No 7 is widely recognized as one of his most compelling achievements and having the privilege to hear it in such talented company made me try even harder to get it. It is a tumultuous journey that Dvorak has in store for us, and I did enjoy the relentless complexity of the sounds and moods coming out of a revved- up orchestra led by a particularly dynamic Ivan Fischer. It was all very good indeed, but I guess some things will never change: I left with Tchaikovsky’s notes still happily dancing in my head.

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