Saturday, March 2, 2024

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia - Debussy, Sibelius & Prokofiev - 02/24/24

Claude Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune 
Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 
Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100 
Conductor: Paavo Järvi 
Violin: Augustin Hadelich 

After a short but very pleasant week in Naples, I came back to Rome with my friend Vittorio in tow as I was determined to do my darndest to reciprocate his superlative hospitality. Since he had been eager for a while to attend a concert in Parco della Musica’s admittedly wonderful auditorium Ennio Morricone, and his wishes are my commands, I had been looking for the right program at the right time. 
I eventually found it in the performance calendar of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Parco’s resident ensemble and sure-fire guarantee of full satisfaction. Because, seriously, who wouldn’t go for an eclectic array of defining works from French, Finnish and Russian composers, a well-regarded Estonian-American conductor, and a highly acclaimed Italo-Germano-American violinist? 
So there we were, on Saturday evening at my usual 6:00 PM time, in the not quite full auditorium, a fact that might have been be explained by the unusual number of violin concertos presented within those walls lately. That said, the Sibelius is, as far as I am concerned, the one that stands above the abundance of richness that is the violin concerto repertoire, and any opportunity to hear it simply has to be grabbed. 

Frequently appearing on concert programs as the opener, Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune has the perfect length for the job indeed. But the 10-minute jewel is also well-known for its ethereal beauty and dreamy atmosphere, as well as its bold revolutionary nature, so it is no surprise that it is unfailingly such a big hit with audiences. And Saturday evening was no different as the orchestra created a timeless magical world overflowing with delicate exoticism, exquisite harmonies, and let’s not forget those gorgeous solos. It really never gets old. 
After having gratefully yielded to the hypnotic power of Debussy and his faun, we happily moved on to the equally hypnotic opening of Jean Sibelius’ violin concerto courtesy of Augustin Hadelich. I was thrilled when I first saw his name on the program because I had heard him superbly play that same piece in New York City a few years ago, and therefore knew we were in very good hands. And sure enough, on Saturday he proved one more time what an artlessly brilliant artist he is, handling the technical challenges with impressive ease and the emotional charge with unwavering commitment. 
We rewarded his bona fide tour de force with so much enthusiasm that he treated us to two unusual and thrilling encores, first his very own—and very fun—arrangement of Howdy Forrester’s Appalachian tune “the Wild Fiddler's Rag”, and then his instrumental version of the ever-popular Argentine tango song “Por una cabeza” (If you’ve watched The Scent of a Woman or Schindler’s List, you’ve definitely heard it, and probably loved it). 

I had honestly come to the concert for the first half of it and could have easily left at intermission totally satisfied. But then again, there’s no denying the appeal of Prokofiev’s music. Written within the span of an obviously very busy month, his fifth symphony shows an irrepressible spirit that was direly needed in 1944, and is unfortunately still direly needed today, since we apparently have not learned much in the past 80 years. 
Context aside, it is also an exciting wide-ranging composition that includes some not necessarily standard symphonic instruments like two harps and a piano, which ended up contributing lots of cool sounds to the overall experience. Add to that the restless creative mind of Prokofiev, and you have a sprawling work that is as profound as entertaining. The orchestra and guest conductor Paavo Järvi were obviously keen on doing it justice, all 45 minutes of it, and they fully succeeded. Just as I had at least partly succeeded in paying off my debt of gratitude.

No comments: