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NSO and Maazel Work Well Together

We welcome this review from guest contributor Sophia Vastek, who was helpfully filling in for your ailing moderator.

In many ways, the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert last night, conducted by Lorin Maazel, showcased a musical return to true sincerity and a lack of presumption. It was a delightful program all around: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was the featured soloist, performing Barber’s Violin Concerto, which was matched with Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Franck’s Symphony in D minor, and a work by Maazel himself, based on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. The concert opened with Rimsky-Korsakov’s time-worn arrangement of Mussorgsky’s programmatic work, and with startlingly tight ensemble playing. Maazel is certainly a minimalist when it comes to his conducting style, and, like it or not, the orchestra responded with crisp rhythmic integrity, making for an exciting performance of a work that might otherwise leave something to be desired in the way of substance.

Salerno-Sonnenberg played the Barber Concerto with utmost earnestness, passionate and so clearly intelligent, albeit a bit messy in a few places (but notes aren’t everything after all). Her ability to communicate with and weave in and out of the orchestra was truly remarkable, especially in the beginning of the second movement. She emerged from the orchestra from nothing – literally nothing, leaving the audience clinging to their seats until her sound gained more substance and gracefully exited the orchestra’s aural fold. She was a collaborator in the truest sense of the word, and it was refreshing to see in a soloist.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Maazel and National Symphony: No Technical Difficulties (Washington Post, October 16)
The orchestra’s rendition of Franck’s Symphony was admirable but never gave way to what can be (or should be) full-blown Romanticism. The piece never really gained momentum, perhaps due to Maazel’s meticulous approach? But it was the two Maazels (yes, two of them) that left the most lasting impression with The Giving Tree for orchestra, solo cello, and narrator. Maazel’s piece is a dark and moving interpretation of Silverstein’s popular children’s book, and Maazel’s wife, Dietlinde Turban-Maazel, a German actress, brought the story to life through her acute and powerful narration. The final words, “and the tree was happy” (after the boy has taken everything the tree has to give), were accented by a tragically dissonant, over-Romanticized orchestra that left much to the imagination in what exactly the word “happy” meant. Despite the apparent simplicity of the text, Maazel deftly crafted a multifaceted and refined orchestration that swirled around the narrative in a way that surely left audience members pondering this simple children’s story and its implications.

This concert will be repeated this evening (October 17, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.


Michael Pakaluk said...

This concert was the best I had heard NSO play. I don't think any other orchestra in the world could have sounded better.

What impressed me most about Nadja was her use of pianissimo and piano dynamics. Also, the last movement was very fast. You felt like you were a child riding gallop on your daddy's lap and about to fall off.

jfl said...

What a very fine review. Concise and pleasant to read: Congrats & welcome.


Rebecca said...

I really enjoy Shel Silverstein and would love to hear Maazel's setting of The Giving Tree. Any chance you know of any recordings?

Also, I thought this might be interesting... The Giving Tree read by Shel Silverstein: