Friday, January 28, 2011

Step back to the future

Conductor Arild Remmereit quickly enters Heinz Hall, brimming with a wide smile, and his rakish good looks, he waves to the audience, then briskly begins Mozart's Symphony No. 40. Many times I've listened to this symphony on CD in my car. Hearing it for the first time live and in concert is a treat. Remmereit's style of conducting is an animated immersion into the music, reaching low and bringing up the strings, with his hands adroitly leading the woodwinds and horns into action. No need for a baton or podium, this music he obviously knows by heart, and with his direction, the symphony orchestra accentuates this classical composition.

The second movement (Andante) begins with the viola section, and quickly the elegant blending of sound moves like a wave through the sections, at times highlighting the pureness of the higher notes coming from the strings - a beautiful sound indeed. Smiling again, Remmereit starts off the third movement, a Menuetto, as if he is dancing with the orchestra in a Waltz, leading the movement back and forth, his hair waving as he gestures. Then comes a mini-intermezzo of sorts, that Mozart has sandwiched between the Menuetto, with highlights provided by the Bass and English Horn, then again the toe tapping tune returns. Finally an Allegro brings a furious movement of the fingers on the strings, and we hear one of the best forms of music provided by Herr Mozart. I wish it wouldn't end, and if it were in my car, the CD would progress to Symphony 41, but here we have vigorous applause by multitudes of happy smiling faces. I'm patient, I'm certain the PSO will bring Symphony 41 someday.

Next enters beautiful Viviane Hagner with her violin, and a magnificent dress of silver background and colorful ornate patterns adorned. To me this is the highlight of the evening. The PSO led by conductor Remmereit introduces the Haydn Concerto with their usual aplomb, and as Ms. Hagner joins it, I'm instantly impressed not only by her playing but by the timber and quality of the sound from her violin - the volume is powerful. The four instantly recognizable notes that begin use a special technique of playing two strings each at the same time, bringing out a special harmonic quality. The second movement (Adagio) is intimate in the appeal provided by Ms. Hagner, the luscious tones accented by quiet pizzicato provided by the string section. The Finale: Presto, I'm amazed, a lively performance by a reserved soloist (in stature), yet resoundingly outward in the quality and volume of sound.

The Haydn Concerto was written around 1765, 20 years or more before the Mozart Symphony that preceded this performance this evening. I can't help but imagine what it would have been like to have lived in that time, and to have experienced each new composition anew. Tonight Ms. Hagner took me back in time, as if it were indeed the first time this concerto had been presented to a listening audience. And when it was over, I was forced to step back to the future, and stood and applauded, as if waking from a dream.

Intermission begets the advent of Sibelius Symphony No. 5. I envision a series of scenes, as if sequences of a motion picture. Perpetual motion found in the strings is augmented by particular ambiance of the woodwinds and horns, like the birds and the bees in a mid summer's amalgamation. By the end of the movement the climax is intense, and as I see in the conductor's furious strengthening of the tight knit and voluminous melding of sounds from 100+ orchestra members, it ends at the peak of a spectacular precipice, and the audience can't help but applaud, even though we've got more to go. The second movement employs an effective use of pizzicato. The third and final movement brings out, finally, the love scene, a beautiful sequence of notes presented by the English Horns, the famous melody of this Symphony - unforgettable! The scene leads to a chase, and eventually a recapitulation with my famously coined love scene melody, only this time a bit ironic as if lost, and eventually at the conclusion, again found. A great ending to a marvelous evening!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Valentina Lisitsa

Who says classical music isn’t ‘hot’? Tonight we found out otherwise, with the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. Valentina Lisitsa poured her heart out on the piano, it was spectacular to watch and to hear. The strings of the PSO opened with sizzling sounds that exploded with scintillating reverb bringing that ‘hot’ lush sound I’m often longing for when I attend a Pittsburgh Symphony. And the whole of the first movement seemed to whiz by with such alacrity and aplomb, I was awe-struck. But it was the second movement that literally brought goose bumps. The romanticism is evident in this movement – I’ve listened to it so many times, and I never grow tired. The final movement has some of that famous sounds that many have heard before – again a very romantic theme, and the piano and the orchestra share turns repeating the theme over and over, leading up to a stunning and climatic finale. The hands on the piano were amazing, and the audience leapt to a standing ovation. I’m so glad to have had this opportunity to witness the joy of this concerto, performed by an artist, Valentina Lisitsa, who’s smile was radiant and beaming with effuse expressions, especially at intermission when she signed autographs. I shook her hand, congratulated her on a great job on my favorite concerto of all time — and now, I have a favorite performance of this beautiful concerto. (from May 2010)