A. Casella, Orchestral Works, Vol. 4, BBC Philharmonic, G. Noseda (Chandos, 2015)
Prokofiev, Complete Works for Violin, J. Ehnes, BBC Philharmonic, G. Noseda (Chandos, 2013)
Any guest conductor this season and next might be a contender to replace Christoph Eschenbach in two years. Noseda's debut with the NSO, in 2011, did not endear me to him. His manner at the podium was more controlled, less wild, this time around, and the results, especially in the Casella piece, were encouraging. More than an "elegy," as the title implies, the work opens as a sort of howl of grief, the plodding tempo evoking a noisy funeral procession. With the vast orchestration swamping the stage with sound for much of the opening part of the piece, individual colors of orchestration came out in later parts: an extended sotto voce passage for strings, bubbling with dissonances; striking solos or duets for bassoon, viola with bass clarinet, oboe with oscillating flutes; a music box section for celesta, harp, and flute. It was a moving experience to hear this piece, written in the midst of World War I and dedicated to "the memory of a soldier killed in war," especially in close conjunction with the celebration of Veterans Day.
Noseda's cycle of Casella's orchestral works, with the BBC Philharmonic, is an excellent way to get to know this composer better. Noseda and this evening's soloist, Canadian violinist James Ehnes, have also recorded the Prokofiev violin concertos, and here Ehnes gave a wry, understated rendition of the second concerto (G minor, op. 63). The piece opens with the violin by itself, and throughout Ehnes was sensational in the lyrical parts of the piece. Harmonically, Prokofiev takes a turn backward towards a more Romantic palette in this piece, composed as he was preparing for repatriation to the Soviet Union. The lovely second theme of that opening movement has a Hollywood sweetness, and any music that might give the feel of Prokofiev grotesquerie is soft-pedaled. Ehnes gave the second movement every ray of sunlight he could muster, glowing on its ardent melodies, especially transparent high on the E string. With movements that felt so dance-like in the second movement, like the variations at the climax of a ballet, it was a reminder that Prokofiev was also working on the score of Romeo and Juliet around the same time. Hints of sardonic humor came through in the finale, with Ehnes so technically assured, especially in the rather flippant theme with castanets.
Anne Midgette, Restrained and urbane, Noseda leads NSO in strong Rachmaninoff (Washington Post, November 13)
This concert repeats on Saturday evening.