Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Brahms: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 - Lisa Batiashvili
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
During the last couple of weeks, which were relatively quiet on the musical front, I was busily gearing up for five concerts in five days, from Wednesday through Sunday of this week. And if it sounds almost like too much of a good thing, it probably is, but then again, why not?
The first in line was the über-prestigious Staatskapelle Dresden at Carnegie Hall for an all-Brahms program, including his dazzling violin concerto and his magnificent Symphony No 4. Both happen to be two of my favorite musical masterpieces, and the fact that the violin concerto would be performed by Lisa Batiashvili was yet another incentive to go. After hearing her positively nail the uncommonly treacherous Sibelius concerto with the New York Philharmonic a couple of years ago, I had high hopes she could just as classily tame the equally challenging Brahms.
Dedicated to the memory of Sir Colin Davis, who had an especially close relationship with the orchestra and passed away last Sunday, the concert started on a light-hearted note with Brahms' short and colorful Academic Festival Overture.
Once everybody was warmed up, orchestra and soloist launched into a totally sweeping performance of the violin concerto. Although in general Lisa Batiashvili is a rather discreet presence onstage, her graceful silhouette clad in a one-shouldered black and red long dress was certainly hard to miss on Wednesday, and even less so once she had grabbed her violin and assertively started playing Brahms' exceptionally intricate composition. Among the expected mix of unabashed lyricism, exquisite delicacy, infectious exuberance and virtuosic fireworks - not to forget the mesmerizing oboe solo - stood out the surprise du jour in the form of Ferruccio Busoni's cadenza replacing Joseph Joachim's more familiar one. Its understated nature fit in well into the immensity of the first movement and gave a new spin to the popular work, adding a nice touch of novelty to one of the most enduring staples of the repertoire.
Then we moved on to an even more majestic feat. In the best Romantic tradition, Brahms' fourth and last symphony, one of the most beautifully crafted works by the perfectionist master, was impeccably performed by the orchestra under the assured direction of Christian Thielemann. I've always thought that its depressing nature has been overly exaggerated, and listening to it again did nothing but reinforce my opinion that, while austerity and restraint remain omnipresent, only in the passacaglia finale does darkness win decisively over. As I was happily letting myself be carried away by the grand force that is Brahms' ultimate journey, I found myself thinking that the German may not have won the War on the battle field, but when it comes to the musical realm, they clearly stand second to none.
There's not much to add after Brahms' Symphony No 4, and for once I would have been perfectly happy leaving the Hall right after its conclusion. But the orchestra obviously thought otherwise and boldly broke the Brahmsian spell by throwing themselves whole-heartedly into a vivacious Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin by, you know, The Other Guy. A whimsical nod at the infamous War of the Romantics, but most of all, a true pleasure for the ears.