KVT once again under the romantic dome
The Late Romantics certainly had it made with the VNSO on Thursday night and it was a welcome return for me to the intimate audio surrounds of the grand old Opry House after a five month stint overseas where all the concert halls I attended were sooooo big and tooooo full of grey haired old dearies and daddies. It was a treat to be back with Hanoi’s classical music and surrounded by a wide range of ages (mind you, the few talkative tots who crept in -even though the management wisely disallows kids under 8- needed to have their parents soundly spanked).
The brass section of the orchestra was a huge hit of the night. They started with a sonorous blare in Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia’ and didn’t put a foot (or a breath) throughout the program which demanded a lot of them.
‘Finlandia’ that wonderfully stirring tone poem, was given optimum treatment through its 8 minute length and it was easy to put yourself in he shoes of Finns in 1900 when they heard Sibelius’ giving a high two finger salute in the direction of Imperial Russia who had subjugated them for so long. When, towards the end, that well known tune, the Finlandia Hymn, takes over the turbulence with a serene calm that almost overwhelms you, it’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of people everywhere who are struggling for recognition and/or freedom.
The tune has been put to emotive words in many countries and was used as a national anthem by the ill fated republic of Biafra that existed from 1967 to 1970 as it desperately tried to free its people from a genocidal fate.
As I write this I hear that Nelson Mandela has died and “Finlandia’, playing in the background, seems a fitting tribute to the great man…..as this You Tube Version by Karajan supports (with the visuals showing another part of the long Finnish struggle for independence).
The treat of the night was supplied by young Japanese pianist, Hibiki Tamura He gave us a beautifully impassioned interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the VNSO accompanying as that su tuyet voi (excellently) as could possibly be.
The first and second movements were enough to move me to tears and when the third erupted you knew immediately why, in 2011, the Brits voted it the nation’s favorite piece of classical music. Its been utilized in a lot of film soundtracks and the oldies amongst us will fondly recall it in David Lean’s ‘Brief Encounter” and the younger in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Hereafter’.
It’s often been described as the greatest piano concerto ever written and, my word, did Tamura prove that it was just that.
The applause at the end was long and, somehow, the pianist managed to give the longest encore I can recall a soloist playing…so excellently that he left you gasping for breath. Here’s a clip of that movement by Yuja Wang to refresh readers memories …though I only wish I could show you Thursday’s magnetically magnificent performance.
And for the historically inclined, a clip of the composer playing the same piece.
My favorite movement is the sublime second, which was stolen by Celine Dion for her power ballad ‘All By Myself”.
The concerto has been described as Rachmaninoff’s one of two musical works capable of acting as a surrogate for man’s achievement. The other is Tchaikovsky’s first concerto.
Just when I thought that the night couldn’t get better and I thought I might as well go home and luxuriate in the remembered sounds from the Steinway, the orchestra was reconfigured, reseated, and that well known hero of mine, Ong Honna, Principal Conductor of the VNSO, took to the podium again and, amazingly, without a score in front of him, conducted a truly memorable interpretation of Dvorak’s Symphony No 8.
From the very first, as the sun symbolically rose and the flute sang like a bird and passed its tune to the cellos, the whole orchestra played as well as I’ve ever heard it…with the Japanese lady seated next to me nodding in agreement as I breathed out my bravos from beginning to end.
It’s often said that the cellos act like a Greek chorus as they carry such a lot of the melodic weight of the symphony and they were a delight to watch particularly in the first movement that is full of raucous sunshine and all of those delightful birds!
Not that the symphony is all light and cheerful, even if it is based on children’s folk songs. And it is the beginning melody of the third movement, the scherzo, that uses falling scales so that the music falls like tears. It has been suggested that the symphony was composed with Dvorak’s children in mind, three of whom died within months of each other.
The last movement, which starts off with a fanfare from the VNSO’s marvelous sounding trumpets and uses a familiar sounding children’s song, reprises joy, the sunshine and the bird song until, after a gorgeous climactic build up it becomes soulfully bittersweet as the strings lead us again into variations of the original version of the children’s tune. Oh those romantic cellos! And not forgetting the slow, sad notes of the winds.
Sounds of optimism or hope round it all off.
Excellent work by Ong Honna and the VNSO, seen here acknowledging deserved applause To conclude, a version of that last great movement (alas, not by the VNSO but led by another maestro, Zubin Mehta) and just listen to those mellow cellos!
|Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.|