Conductor: Daniel Gatti
Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77 – Julian Rachin
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
After a longer than usual absence from it, I was happily back at Carnegie Hall last Thursday night to support my fellow countrymen of the Orchestre National de France, along with Lithuanian violinist, violist and now conductor Julian Rachlin, in a resolutely classical program consisting of a delicately nuanced French symphonic poem by Debussy and two grippingly emotional Russian works – a violin concerto by Shostakovich and a symphony Tchaikovsky – that could only attract a large and excited crowd.
And the crowd was definitely there, including my friend Christine, who had decided to bravely dip her toes a little bit deeper into classical music's mysterious waters, and Christine Lagarde, who is the president of Honorary Committee for the orchestra's US tour and, incidentally, the Managing Director of the IMF. And who can clearly recognize a good gig when she sees one.
Unexpectedly, the concert did not start with Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, but with Wagner's prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which needless to say has a totally different groove. But who were we to complain about a surprise opening gift being thrown upon us? The orchestra dwelled into German romanticism with gusto, and off we were.
Next, Debussy's eagerly awaited Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune got to glow with mesmerizing shimmering colors and beautiful impressionistic touches. On Thursday night, Debussy's ground-breaking masterpiece proved once again that sometimes the most understated works are the most memorable ones.
There is nothing understated about Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, but some subtle nuances can for sure be found in it. The one and only time I had heard Julian Rachlin perform before Thursday, he had played the tricky piece with confident virtuosity. About a decade later, he still took on the challenge head-on, but also made sure to let the quieter passages expand and brilliantly come alive. After much brooding darkness, the notorious passacaglia and its treacherous melodic lines appeared as the wild ride they are, and it all ended in a fierce finale.
But taming one of the violin repertoire's most untamable beasts was apparently not enough, and our enthusiastic ovation was rewarded with Ysaye's difficult "Ballade" sonata, which Rachlin handled with much dexterity and heart.
After intermission, we seamlessly moved from Shostakovich's unforgiving grittiness to Tchaikovsky's intense emotions with his majestic Symphony No. 5. Big sentiments and big sounds were in order here, and the orchestra unconditionally responded to Daniel Gatti's with precision and voluptuousness. So we shamelessly indulged in the luscious account of the magnificent composition, and felt all the better for it.
The hour was getting late and a good chunk of the audience was already out of the hall when the unstoppable French decided to end the concert the same way they had started it, with a surprise treat. This time, however, we moved back to the realm of French music with a heart-felt rendition of Fauré's prelude from Pelléas et Mélisande. Vive la France !