Saturday, February 16, 2013

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra - Bartok & Mahler - 02/13/13

Conductor: Mariss Jansons
Bartok: Violin Concerto No 2 - Leonidas Kavakos
Maher: Symphony No 1 in D Major, (Titan)

Back at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, I was preparing myself for the annual visit of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra accompanied by their chief conductor Mariss Janons, which has long enjoyed a well-earned reputation as one of the oldest and best orchestras in the world. The fact that they were going to perform Mahler's first symphony was an extra incentive - the composer being one of their specialties - and the presence of Leonidas Kavakos to handle Bartok's Violin Concerto No 2 was the unmistakable cherry on top.

Bartok's second violin concerto for sure does not qualify as easy listening, but in the expert hands of Leonidas Kavakos it glowed with an alluring beauty that was both rough and luminous. Moreover, even if the composition is not the most accessible, it is still enough of a smorgasbord to keep the audience at least interested. Add to that mix a violinist famous for his assured virtuosity and the result should be nothing short of riveting. And that's exactly what we got on Wednesday night.
A rather inconspicuous yet magnetic presence on the stage, Kavakos churned out acrobatic trills and lyrical melodies without batting an eyelid, effortlessly maintaining a steady balance between folksy earthiness and warm Romanticism. The orchestra, which premiered the work back in 1939, proved to be the ideal partner for this tour de force, providing unflappable support overflowing with colors of its own.
The ovation was predictably thunderous and long, to the point where, lo and behold, Leonidas Kavakos eventually treated the ecstatic audience to an unexpected but most appreciated encore in the form of the Allemanda from Ysaÿe's "Fritz Kreisler" sonata. Having the privilege of hearing Kavakos play such a richly vibrant movement sans accompaniment would have easily justified the price of the concert ticket by itself.
Then we moved on to Mahler and his sprawling first symphony, which the orchestra brought to life with deep knowledge and clear confidence. The brass and woodwinds, in particular, distinguished themselves with crisp and precise sounds. Mariss Jansons used the tight connection he has formed with the musicians to draw an exceptionally inspired performance from them. Each section got to display its musical power while remaining solidly integrated in the whole, reminding us all by the same token where the hype came from, and how brilliantly they justify it.

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