Daniel Ginsberg, NSO Sounds Just Right With Abbado, Ohlsson (Washington Post, November 5) [NB: The Post review does mistakenly refer to Roberto Abbado and "his father, Claudio."—CTD]
Fabio Vacchi, Dai calanchi di Sabbiuno et al.,
Guido Maria Guida/Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana
As the Vacchi started softly, swelled and recoiled, the Beethoven concerto picked up this softest of touches, bringing it to further heights. Many music lovers hail the Fourth Piano Concerto as the finest piano concerto written. Be that as it may (my pick, Elliot Carter's second, hasn't gotten a chance in that debate, anyway), it is assuredly an unmitigated delight. We've heard Beethoven so many times that there is always a danger of it falling into a hackneyed mode of routine playing. Not with the NSO, led by the always delectable first chair Nurith Bar-Joseph and under the baton of Mr. Abbado. Textures were light enought and though some elements of the orchestra could have been a bit quicker onto their notes, there was no thumping around on the back of the beat.
L.v.Beethoven, PC's 3 & 4,
While Mr. Ohlsson continued with well-honed playing, Maestro Abbado accompanied in a lean, well-articulated style... crisp like fresh linen. A humming cello was a bit obvious in some parts, a snarling bassoon called undue attention to itself elsewhere, but it was a fine fit, overall. I do find, however, that Beethoven, like most Classical and early Romantic music, is not well suited to a "nouvelle cuisine" approach to music. You decidedly do not want to hear all the individual parts that make up the whole, because they don't always make sense on their own and usually don't enlighten much, either. Brahms, Haydn, Mozart & Co. more likely fall apart into incoherent strands. They are better served with the "curry style" of music making. All in one pot: one big flavor. Bach and Mahler, to name only two, are another story. Dissecting the former gives you the giddy joy of proving a mathematical equation, while with the latter it's like deconstructing a Joyce novel. The sort of stuff you like to do on any given rainy weekend in Geekland.
G.Mahler, Symphony No.1,
First of all, it doesn't start with a bang, it starts just like Vacchi and Beethoven: timid, soft, tender. It then progresses, but neither as delicately as the Vacchi, nor as purposefully as the Beethoven. It's topsy-turvy with Mahler, and all to good fun. The NSO played rather well, making it easy to forgive a few rather audible weaknesses, especially in the difficult and exposed brass section. Mr. Abbado conducted decisively and got the orchestra to do his bidding with the "Titan." That the NSO is no natural Mahler orchestra can be heard by anyone who has been spoiled by live or even just recorded performances of bands that have an idiomatic and qualitative advantage. Nurith Bar-Joseph apart (she had also been the bright and shining light in Mahler's Second Symphony when Gilbert Kaplan performed it at the Kennedy Center a few months ago), I found devoted passion for the music lacking. Then, of course, I hold the stubborn conviction that the prerequisite to doing Mahler extraordinarily well involves having pranced around green Austrian pastures in Lederhosen.
The language in Mahler, especially in symphonies nos. 1, 3, and 7, is like a trip to my youth for me, and anyone I presume lacking in similar emotional connections is unjustly held suspect. The genial Roberto Abbado—while not likely to have done any Lederhosen-clad prancing anywhere—got to the core of it. Then, of course, he did spend six years in Munich as the head of the Munich Radio Orchestra. (There is talk of the Bavarian Radio planning to shut down that exciting orchestral body, often mixed up with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Read about it in the FAZ.) The spiritual and emotional roller coaster that is the first symphony ends with a clipped bang, indicative of the evening as such. Tickets had still been available at the door; encouraging to all those who like to make ad hoc plans. The reward would have been certain.