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Fischer, NSO Offer Czech Bouquet

Iván Fischer's second weekend of National Symphony Orchestra performances (see the review of last week's concerts with Nikolaj Znaider) featured a selection of his “favorites” and opened with a seldom-heard gem: Dvořák’s Notturno in B major for string orchestra, op. 40. Fully exploiting the warm disposition of that particular key, the strings gently rove over a pedal-point lasting a few minutes and finally resolve simply from V to I. The work then moves forward with pizzicati beneath to a generously drawn-out ending. This pleasurable work was a foreshadowing of the second half of the program to come.

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Mozart, Flute Concertos and Concerto for Flute and Harp, Emmanuel Pahud, Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado
Emmanuel Pahud, Berlin Philharmonic principal flute player since age 22, joined the NSO for the rest of the first half in Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 (G major, K. 313). With a brassy, almost reed-like tone and fast, narrow vibrato, Pahud offered a multitude of detail in articulation and phrasing. The orchestra did an excellent job attempting to match the level of detail, fluency, and gesture in Pahud’s playing. Fischer, in the Q&A following the performance, perhaps but it best: “Most instrumentalists play on their instruments; Pahud’s flute is an extension of his heart.”

Fischer loaded the second half of the program with his “favorites” by interspersing picturesque tone poems from Smetana’s Má vlast (“My Country”), with a selection of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets (from folk poetry orchestrated by Tibor Gátay) with soprano Carolyn Betty and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor. Fischer described his programming scheme as being centered on waves: “As waves are very beautiful in music, I am keen to present contrast and unity in the form of waves.” Dvořák’s brief peasant duets were largely sad, yet always with striking beauty. Even the wedding song There on Our Roof had a very serious disposition. It was a pleasure to hear Betty’s excellent musicianship and color in her second annual appearance with the NSO and Fischer. O’Connor, though sometimes lagging behind Betty, was superb.

Photo of conductor Iván Fischer by Joost van Velsen,
courtesy of Harrison/Parrott
One heard the churning and rustling of an entire ecosystem in Smetana’s tone poem From Bohemian Woods and Fields, which eventually turns into a polka. The bassoon “snore” in the tone poem Šárka was well done, while Vltava (also known by the Czech river’s German name, The Moldau, and last heard only this past April from the NSO) vividly depicted the river’s origins in the forest to its triumphant passage through Prague – the hunter’s horn, wedding feast, castle, and nymphs along the way are also a treat. You are encouraged to experience this unique and memorable program.

Further highlights of the extended post-concert Q&A included Fischer referring to audition committees as “the police” who care more about mistakes than feeling. Fischer desires “real artists with something to say…if there are two normal candidates and a crazy one, I always take the crazy one; the committee always takes the square one.” Fischer responded to a question about period instruments and his future Concertgebouw appearance leading the St. Matthew Passion of Bach by stating that “I love original instruments and work with them a lot, though they do not have an exclusive right to the music; the person is more important than the instrument.”

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Fischer's Recipe: Stir Vigorously With Baton (Washington Post, November 10)
After urging the audience not to cough at the most interesting points in works, charmingly implying that they might not be listening well, the artists fielded a question about the relevance of music criticism today. Pahud and Fischer agreed that good criticism does an important service for the community and noted that there is less space for it in today’s media. Fischer noted that in papers from the 1920s and 30s, essays discussing performances could be found. Pahud mentioned that there are many more people reading newspapers or online than are sitting in the concert halls. Fischer then noted that he finds critical reviews useful and not bothersome as musicians are always in discussion and disagree continuously.

This concert, without the AfterWords event featuring the artists, repeats this afternoon (November 9, 1:30 pm) and tomorrow evening (November 10, 8 pm).

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