NSO’s 100% Vodka

Maybe a little cliché, but it was an all-Russian program. And a good one.

The program was originally to consist of Rachmaninoff’s Capriccio on Gypsy Themes  followed by his fourth piano concerto and Shostakovich’s sixth symphony. Maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky was to conduct, and his wife, Viktoria Postnikova was to be the soloist. Unfortunately (but not altogether surprising, I guess, considering the maestro’s age), for health reasons, he had to cancel.

As a result, the first Rachmaninoff piece was replaced by Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain (or Rimsky-Korsakov’s…?) and instead of Rachmaninoff’s fourth, we got Tchaikovsky’s famous first piano concerto, performed by 葉孟儒 (now at least the third time I’d seen him live) with Maestro Antoni Wit on the podium, and it was nice to see him again, if only from a distance.

I thought it was odd, after first reading the program notes and hearing the work performed so well, that it was claimed to be a somewhat rarely-performed or only recently-popular work, even if it was one of the earliest examples of a symphonic poem from Russia. While it’s obviously far more like a quick sketch of a scene, a little powerful, impressive blast of a thing rather than a full-scale symphony (like a novel), it was full-bodied and imposing nonetheless. Fantasia and all that. While I can only comment that this is at least the second time Wit has led our NSO, he seemed to be familiar or else comfortable or at home with them, or them with him. The show and effectiveness of something like the Fantasia-famous piece is mostly in bombast and contrast, but they played it well and it was nice to hear.

Next on the program was the Tchaikovsky, and until this concert, I’d actually heard the second concerto more times than the first, and the third as many timesThe first has now caught up. While the overall performance was impassioned and enjoyable (I think the wheels would really  have to come off at a performance of this work for it to be entirely unenjoyable), I would say that it was perhaps the most obvious casualty of a last-minute stand-in. I don’t have anything particularly negative to say about it. It was a fine reading, and as usual, 葉孟儒 played with what I’d say are slightly-too-showy fireworks, but full of emotion. It’s a familiar enough piece that everyone should know their way around it, a big, gushing Romantic work, and while there might have been a shaky spot or two in the first movement (that I actually can’t seem to recall now), the second was nice. The third seemed surprisingly fast, and my assumption, for whatever reason, was that this was the pianist’s decision, although I could be wrong. He seemed to be more than onboard with the clip they’d set for the final movement, and it wasn’t detrimental but quite brisk. The one disadvantage is that it’s one of those pieces that people are very familiar with, and have favorite recordings of and all the rest, but I was very pleased with it overall. We got a slightly more deliberate but still fireworksy La Campanella as an encore.

The Shostakovich was the only work on the program that did not change. I’ve listened to it before, but not enough to know it intimately. It’s the one that comes after no. 5, still dark, with the really long, sparse, first movement, dismal, bleak, and then the two more fiery, almost violent subsequent movements. It seemed here that everyone was at home, I don’t know much about Wit’s non-Polish repertoire (aside from what I’d heard him conduct last time, and his recording of Mahler 8), but everyone seemed to be perfectly in tune with Shostakovich’s symphony. It was a powerful, convincing performance, even of a perhaps difficult-to-understand work, the result being that everyone was moved, everyone felt something, even if it wasn’t exactly what the composer had in mind. It was a definite success, and I left feeling glad to have had the chance to hear it (all) live.

This was the very last normal concert of the season, and the last time I’ll be at any concert for almost three weeks. Due to the opera house renovation, the NSO will be doing Verdi’s Othello as a concert opera, in the concert hall. We shall see what that is like, but I’m looking forward to it. Stay tuned.

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