It might not bode well for the projected enjoyment when attending the first concert of the year feels distinctly like ‘back to work’. But if work should be as wonderful as the BSO’s performance of Brahms and Musorgsky at Strathmore, I can’t wait for more work. Conductor Roberto Abbado (Yes, related. No, not his son) and violinist Henning Kraggerud did their part to make the night a memorable event and get our hopes up high for 2007.
The Brahms Violin Concerto came first and it immediately impressed. Sonorous, gentile-gentilissimo, fresh, perfectly synchronized, homogenous, with absolute control, firm, crisp (but not without heart and emotion): it felt like immense gratification at the sudden appearance of greatness after plenty hard, perhaps less promising, labor. And that’s all before Henning Kraggerud ever even contributed a note. His opening notes might have been a little craggy but he turned it around into a performance that combined steely technique, great accuracy in all but a few spots, and an expressiveness that made the music appear slower, more lyrical, than his chosen tempi would have seem to make possible. Impetuous and aggressive/exciting were all those parts that didn't revel in heartrending lyricism. Kraggerud contributed much to that war-horse of violin concertos, making it a riveting occasion, no matter how many times we’ve heard it in concert.
The Musorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition is the kind of work where the BSO can draw on the sound – especially in the brass – that former Music Director Yuri Temirkanov instilled during his tenure. Add that, and the second hand familiarity the BSO now has with the Russian sensibility, to the precision, to the unfussy attacks that Roberto Abbado brought out of them and the result were moving, refreshing, weighty, yet clear Pictures that, unlike so many other interpretations, didn’t lumber around in self-conscious celebration of their wafting and bombastic sound-world. The BSO’s playing was tight under his exacting hands and there was much care lavished at the score, great delicacy above a reservoir of immense power.
Ronni Reich, BSO's 'True Romance': A Full-Hearted Affair (Washington Post, January 6)