Monday, December 4, 2023

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia - Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky - 11/30/23

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Opus 30 
Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 13 (Winter Daydreams) 
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda 
Piano: Eugene Kissin 

My long-overdue first foray into Rome’s premier classical music venue, namely the Auditorium Parco della Musica Ennio Morricone, was for a recital by Eugene Kissin back in February. I was totally ecstatic at the thought of hearing this extraordinary pianist, not to mention composer, writer, poet, translator, and human rights advocate, after years of complaining about how hard it was to get tickets for his concerts in New York City, but I was significantly less ecstatic about the hassle of getting there. The foray and the recital having been highly successful, I decided to move closer to be able to attend more live musical experiences of a similar caliber, which I have. 
And then the man came back last week, not for a recital this time, but for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, also known as the Himalaya of piano playing. I have had the privilege of hearing it interpreted by some of the world’s top pianists in the past, and it was high time I got around to hearing Kissin as well. And I did just that last Thursday evening at the ungodly hour of 7:30 PM, which felt like a shocking departure from the usual 6:30 PM starting time of the Saturday evening concerts. But hey, anything for Eugene and Rach 3. 

If anybody still had any doubt about Eugene Kissin’s sky-high popularity in Rome, stepping into the packed and buzzing Sala Santa Cecilia of the Parco della Musica complex would have put their mind at ease. Although getting a ticket to the concert in the Eternal City was not quite the mission impossible it had often been in the Big Apple, there were very few empty seats on Thursday evening, the second of three evenings, and three big cameras were around to capture every minute of the occasion. Needless to say, having one of the most iconic works for piano and orchestra on the program obviously had not hurt ticket sales either, and there we all were. 
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 has been packing in eager audiences for over a century now not only because it is such a wild beast to tame and it is so much fun to watch somebody good enough and bold enough to give it a try actually do it, but also because it is roughly 45 minutes of consistently gorgeous take-no-prisoner music that undiscrimatingly sweeps everything and everyone in its glorious path, occasionally even converting classical music neophytes into die-hard afficionados. Having one of the world’s most admired pianists perform it had to be, and indeed was, a totally thrilling experience. 
Whether commandingly riding the big lyrical waves or pointedly shedding light on countless tiny details of this most technically challenging piece of the piano repertoire, the still endearingly cherubic Kissin proved that the impressive virtuosic skills he already displayed as a child prodigy have only gotten better with age. Add to that a healthy dose of emotional maturity, and you get a middle-aged artist at the top of his game, who can probably handle anything thrown at him with heart, poise and gusto, just like he did on Thursday evening. 
Well-known and well-liked for his bottomless generosity when it comes to encores, Kissin treated us not to one or two, but to three wonderful little nuggets as we kept asking for more. In the end, the much-appreciated parting gifts included an upbeat little number by Tchaikovsky, a soulful ballad by Chopin and an exquisite intermezzo by Brahms, as if to extend the Romantic mood we were all happily basking in. 

After the welcome intermission (There’s only so much excitement one can really take at a time), we moved back to Russian territory with the refreshingly artless and tentatively innovative first symphony written by a young Tchaikovsky who had just gotten a job at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory. Whether it is true or not that this first composition of his is the one that gave him the most sleepless nights in his entire career, it is undeniable that this early effort turned out to be one of the most accomplished works produced by a composer still in his mid-twenties. 
With the perfect balance of sharpness and enthusiasm, Milan-born and educated maestro Gianandrea Noseda led the always reliable orchestra in a warm and informed reading of the readily engaging piece. I confess to having a soft spot for the endlessly melodic and delicately melancholic second movement, “Land of gloom, land of mists”, and I enjoyed it even more than usual on Thursday as the focus turned to its elegiac beauty rather than its potentially depressing nature. That said, the whole symphony was pure joy to the ears, all the way to the final exuberant bouquet of Russian folk tunes that surely lifted everybody’s spirits for the rest of the week and some.

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