Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Veronika Eberle: Violin
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
After Mother Nature had dumped another few inches of snow in New York City on April 2 (A belated April’s Fool?), and then followed up with a couple of days of intermittent rain, I simply could not wait to get out of town and fly pretty much anywhere offering actual spring weather. As luck would have it, I had planned to go to the South of France to visit my family and check out the still young but more ambitious than ever Festival de Pâques in Aix-en-Provence, now in its sixth year, with my mom. Timing could not have been better.
Just spending some time in the oh so elegant and yet so laid-back Provençal city of Aix is a treat in itself, but getting to indulge in superb music-making by world-class musicians in perfectly sized venues just brings the whole experience to an entirely different level. To top it all off, the first concert on our list was an all-Brahms program courtesy of the highly regarded Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, esteemed conductor Paavo Jarvi and fast-rising violinist Veronika Eberle in the wonderful Grand Théâtre de Provence. What could go wrong?
Once in the concert hall though, I realized to my horror that the “excellent” seats my mom had been bragging about were in the second row of the parquet – the first two rows having been removed to accommodate the orchestra – which basically meant that we were going to watch the musicians’ shoes while the music would be flying way above our heads. Her desire to be close to the action, which I do not share to begin with, had brought us decidedly too close for comfort, even by her own admission
However, I have to admit that our less than desirable seats had one advantage: We got to watch the prodigious work that Veronika Eberle’s fingers accomplished with disconcerting ease as she was playing Brahms’ fiendishly difficult violin concerto. Although the sound was often discombobulated from where we were, the stunning masterpiece still came through as the irresistible explosion of deeply romantic lyricism and feisty folk-dance tunes that it is. This is probably the violin concerto I’ve heard the most in my life, and its magic still works every time.
After the rousing ovation, Eberle came back with a delightful encore by Prokofiev, expertly handling the 20th century Russian enfant terrible as proficiently as the 19th century German Romantic. This promising musician is clearly unstoppable.
Having deciding that I could not take it any longer, I went off to inquire if getting another seat – any other seat – for the second half of the program was possible. I was not overly optimistic because the place looked packed, but the dynamic, friendly and resourceful staff made it happen, and I happily settled down at the end of one of the parquet’s last rows.
Then I was ready for Brahms’ first symphony, which took him no fewer than a couple of decades to complete. Composing a symphony is obviously no simple matter, and being an exceptionally fastidious perfectionist while continuously wrestling with Beethoven’s ghost probably did not help either. But Brahms thankfully persisted and by all accounts the sprawling end result turned out to be worth the wait. Grand, complex and heart-felt, it is a first effort that has indisputably become a classic, and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen gave a sumptuous, energetic and clear-minded performance of it.
Keeping the momentum going, the orchestra carried on with two originally unidentified encores, the first of which sounded downright familiar but was exasperatingly impossible to name for the longest time (Turns out it was Tchaikovsky's Slavonic March). But the enjoyment quickly overcame the frustration and once this first concert in Aix was over, we were already ready for more.