Notes from a Concert

Last night I went to the NSO concert, which began with Berlioz' "Roman Carnival" overture and featured the Cello Concerto in D minor by Lalo (recordings at the link are filed by composer's name).  But the "second act", and the real reason I went, was the performance of the 5th Symphony of Tchaikovsky, of which I will speak in glowing terms to any and all interested or uninterested parties.

The Berlioz was a typical Berlioz piece: which is to say, beginning (fairly) quietly, dramatic in spades, and carrying an air of being unfinished: perpetually in action and therefore incomplete.  Given a hint from Barzun's biography of the composer, I have been noticing that Berlioz' work often features the flute, his own instrument, prominently; much more prominently than I would have suspected from his violently romantic reputation, as I tend to think of the flute as a more sedate instrument.

The cello concerto I had not heard before; in fact I am completely unfamiliar with Lalo's work apart from his famous Symphonie Espagnole, otherwise known as "one of the staples of the violin concerto repertoire".  Like the Symphonie, the cello concerto features the solo instrument prominently, being in fact almost entirely cello-with-accompaniment, a thing in my knowledge more common in shorter sonata works.  While a solid piece, I did not find it particularly striking.  The third movement features a slow introduction leading to a fast and elaborate conclusion, but it seemed to me poorly handled: whether the composer or the interpretation was to blame is beyond me right now.  Since I haven't bothered to go find five other recordings to listen to, that is.  At any rate, the concerto's chief claim to fame seems to be in being one of the first concerti written for the cello.

Tchaikovsky's 5th is my favorite symphonic work.  I do not say it is the best; even the composer's own 4th is, I think, more technically excellent.  Other composers mastered the expectations of the form in its Beethovian re-incarnation much better: Beethoven himself, of course; Brahams despite his humility; maybe others.  Others, pre-eminently Mahler, took the form in other directions consciously, rather than emulating Tchaikovsky's habit of writing unusual third movements, so the story goes, not for artistic reasons but because he was never happy with his scherzos.  At any rate this performance was excellent, despite the unfortunate oboe player who decided to test his reed during a rest.  The only particular note I will make is that, hearing the performance live for the first time - and this after the Lalo concerto - I noticed that the first movement of the symphony is practically a bassoon concerto: the instrument gets little rest and is featured prominently.

In fact the performance, perhaps partly due to being the last of the weekend, earned a standing ovation which provoked a double encore; the first was - I believe but am not sure - a part of Georges Enescu's 1st Romanian Rhapsody - the fast part at the end, of course, but the whole is good.  The second was Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Thunder and Lightning Polka - a childhood favorite!

1 comment:

  1. I keep forgetting about this, but I do need to correct the notes on the encores: the first was Liszt's 3rd Hungarian Rhapsody, not the Enescu.