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4.2.09

On the Radio: NSO

Tune your radio dial to 90.9 FM on the first Wednesday of the month at 9 pm to hear NSO Showcase, broadcasts of recent concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra. Here is the program of this evening's installment:

February 4, 9 pm
Musorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, and works by Rimsky-Korsakov
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2
Iván Fischer, conductor

The Musorgsky, as far as I can tell, was recorded in 2004, and here is what Tim Page had to say about it:

The program closed with Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," in the familiar orchestral transcription by Maurice Ravel. The piece is designed to succeed, and succeed it does -- nothing like blasting out E-flat major chords at full tilt for three or four minutes to bring an audience to its feet! Gergiev played up Mussorgsky's earthy intensity rather than Ravel's Parisian elegance: Rarely has this hybrid sounded so purely Russian. It was all very elemental, and more than a little crude, but it was also deeply fresh and, on occasion, delightfully weird. To give just one example: I've never heard solo instruments sound so much like animals -- wild, imaginary animals that have somehow been trained to cry out in perfect pitch. (Let me hasten to add that this is not a putdown.)
The Rachmaninoff is from this season (October 23 to 25, 2008), and Anne Midgette had this to say about it:
After the intermission, the Rachmaninoff represented a significant change of gears, all shaggy, blunt bigness after the precise, scalpellike incisions of the Haydn. It is an unfair cliche to dismiss this piece as film music, but the resemblance lies in the fact that it contains within it the seeds of film music. Indeed, if this symphony is forward-looking, it is in articulating an aesthetic that was later reflected in a panoply of more popular styles: here a rhythmic fillip that anticipates Gershwin, there a passage in the brass like a '30s dance band, and, of course, in the third movement, a theme that later flowered, or wilted, in the hit pop song "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again." This is a piece of which it can be said that it is actually better than it sounds.

How much better is open to question. Fischer's answer last night seemed to be, quite a bit better. He and the orchestra made more of it than one might have expected. The orchestra generally plays well for him, with a sense of grace and a new tautness. Fischer is quite specific about what he is looking for; the Rachmaninoff is a whole lot of symphony, and it flagged toward the end for me, under or despite the careful detail. Indeed, the evening as a whole was rather a large dose of music that presented light ideas at great length. But the lightness was there, for the most part; when the orchestra opened the final movement in a tousled, sloppy surge, it was an exception that spotlighted what may be a new, improved rule.
Fischer & NSO: Bigness and Balance (Washington Post, October 24)

1 comment:

geoff dodd said...

With regards to "Pictures" I would recommend the thrilling performance of amazing intensity by Golovanov if you want slavic intensity.