24 February, 2017

Concert Review: Elisso Virsaladze and David Oistrakh Quartet

February 18, CH
Elisso Virsaladze Solo Recital

Virsaladze, now 74, is acknowledged yo be a Schumann "specialist", her playing of this composer praised by none other than the formidable Richter. Now, I am not a fan of Schumann's piano works, yet I hereby do attest that hers was the best Schumann playing I have heard.

Too much had been made of the Florestan-Eusebius thing, and I don't subscribe to it at all. Indeed, many pianists carry this so-called "duality" too far, ending up sounding just piecemeal and impulsive. Not so Virsaladze, who played with unrivaled coherence. What utter harmony, and coordination between the hands! The Arabeske was an enticing opener. The Fantasiestucke, usually fragmented in lesser hands (and not a personal favorite), sounded of one piece. The Liszt arrangement of Widmung was an pleasant exotica.

The first half concluded with a stirring Prokofiev Sonata No. 2, played with brilliance and maturity, not just banging it out. The concert ended with Liszt's Rhapsodie Espagnole, which to me was lacking in Spanish flavor.

The first encore was Mozartian, but I am not sure what it was, maybe a Beethoven variation? Beautiful playing. The second was an impeccable Chopin.

We were lucky to have heard her, and I sure wish she would come back soon. During intermission, I rushed out and bought the ticket for the concert below.

February 20, CH
Elisso Virsaldze and David Oistrakh Quartet

I have heard recordings by the members of this quartet, yet this was the first time I heard them as a quartet. The playing was virtuosic and without flaw, yet I found them strangely lacking in the first half. The Brahms Piano Quintet was just too lean and devoid of a bronzen sonority (difficult to achieve I know), the balance not helped by Virsaladze's self-effacing contribution. Part of the reason was first violinist Baranov's unusually prominent tone, which eclipsed the inner voices. Then, a miracle! The Schumann Piano Quintet was well nigh perfect. Baranov toned down a little, balance improved and Virsaladze was bolder and absolutely divine. Great stuff!

February 21, CH
David Oistrakh Quartet

I missed the short Haydn opener. The quartet was in fine form. The Shostakovich 8th was very well played, but I wished for a little more struggle and danger. Tchaikovsky's No. 2 was always tricky, and I cannot say they have overcome every hurdle. The concer ended with 2 Paganini arrangements, delightful.

17 February, 2017

Review: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra

February 15, 2017, CCCH-Sascha Goetzel-Vadim Repin
Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra

Hallelujah! A miracle has been bestowed upon us.

This is an orchestra that SWINGS! More than any other orchestra, and more than most of today's jazz bands, I kid you not!

I have long followed this orchestra on record. The library has two of their exceptional recordings on Onyx (pictured), which contain pieces played on this tour. They are even better live, and although the promo material humbly declares their striving to be one of the world's greatest orchestras, I'd say they are there already.

Being cultural ambassador for embattled Turkey, concert opened with Capriccio à la Turque by Tüzün. As titled, it is a colorful romp, skillfully crafted and firmly tonal, replete with Turkish rhythms. It was immediately apparent that the orchestra is top drawer and conductor Sacha Goetzel comfortably in charge.

Then came a big surprise in programming, the Violin Concerto by James McMillan (whom I have admired through his many CDs in the library, and I even have a few). Soloist is none other than Vadim Repin. As usual, it has an amalgamation of styles, with a heavy percussion battery. Some passages reminded me of Messiaen. In the slow movement is a surprisingly tender interlude. Repin has lost his boyish fat and now look quite distinguished. The encore was marvelous.

Rimsky-Kosakov's Scheherazade was utterly marvelous. I cannot single out a particular soloist, as all of the solo passages were rendered magnificently. In comparison with this simultaneously virile and tender rendition, the last HKPO performance I attended was merely an exercise in sight reading.

This is not a very large orchestra (strings: 14, 12, 10, 9, 6) yet, like the best orchestras (think the recent visit of the Moscow Philharmonic), they make a very big, full and rounded sound. Not a single ugly moment. Most importantly, all the musicians played like soloists and individuality, making all the solos stand out. The Turks are a famously musical people, and their own traditional music has intricate rhythms and colors. This shows in their performances, full of subtle phrasing and rhythmic emphasis, and swagger in the big moments.

The musicians are almost completely Turk, and excel. I think of the HKPO, which simply does not nurture Chinese and local talents enough. There are now plenty of good Chinese (HK and mainland) wind and brass players (many studied overseas) yet they don't show up on our stages. The HKPO claims to be world class, but a comparison with this Turkish orchestra shows they are not. What HKPO should do is to develop its own character and promote local talents, rather than be a "world-class" wannabe. Don't get me wrong, HKPO is good, but they do not live up to the hyped up promo material their officials give us.