24 October, 2017

MSO Nagano Vengerov Santa Cecilia Pappano Hannigan

Review: Two Wonderful Orchestras

It is commonly said that globalization has homogenized the world's orchestras, and I agree with that. Many orchestras, able or less so, just sound generic (including our own HKPO) and rather devoid of personality. Even at the highest level, orchestras like the BPO, LSO and the CSO, not to mention the NYPO, unless matched with a visionary conductor, play without much personality. But there are exceptions: the VPO, the various German orchestras that originated from former East Germany, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and even the Oslo Philharmonic come to mind.

So, in the span of one week in NYC, it is heartening to hear two more orchestras that, despite the trend towards homogenization, have managed to own clear identities, two that I'd gladly hear over many of their more famous brethren.

Click pic to enlarge. Note all the camouflaged loudspeakers at the periphery.

Oct 18, 2017, Carnegie Hall
Montreal Symphony Orchestra-Nagano-Vengerov

Concert opened with Samy Moussa's A Globe Itself Infolding, for organ and orchestra. In my opinion, this kind of piece, where the organ is kept very busy, is not quite suitable for halls without a real organ. While the massive electronic amplification was clean enough and reached deep, it did not at all  convey the hushed atmosphere that a real organ could. The result was a bit like a film score, no bad thing, but kind of repetitive too.

Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra received a subtly detailed reading. A little slow, this was not a fire and ice reading. Rather, it carefully explored the lyrical and folk elements so often neglected in lesser performances. The orchestra, especially the winds, played very beautifully, and with great character; many passages reminded me of Debussy (La Mer; Images).

The Brahms Violin Concerto featured Maxim Vengerov. His entry surprised me by its tentativeness and smallness, but his tone expanded as things moved on, and was almost faultless throughout, though not as opulent as one would wish in this regal work. The orchestra played very well, especially the oboe solo in the slow movement.

For encore, a perfect rendition of Meditation from Massenet's Thais. The lady next to me was sobbing.

Overall, I am very impressed by the musicianship on offer; a subtle elegance pervaded everything. Wonderful!

NYT Review

Oct 21, 2017, Carnegie Hall
Orchestra dell'Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia-Pappano-Hannigan

The HK library has a lot of Pappano's recordings with this orchestra, and I have been an avid follower, even a fan, but hearing them live is of a much more exalted order!

Salvatorre Sciarrino's La Nuova Euridice secondo Rilke opened the program, after a speech by the conductor. Using innovative blowing techniques, helped by the strings playing close to the bridge, the winds conjured up a delicate, strange and believable picture of the underworld. New music diva Barbara Hannigan sang/declaimed by turns the altered text of Rilke. An effective piece that accomplished what it set out to do.

The Mahler 6th was astonishing in its orchestral opulence. Pappano's was a straightforward, but skillfully managed reading. The mettle of the opera conductor showed in the myriad ways the orchestra imparted great color to everything, from big climaxes to minor outbursts. Sonorities were golden and orchestral playing of utmost character, something we don't usually expect from well known Mahler conductors and orchestras, as they would usually serve up a more consciously "aesthete" approach to emphasize the angst we have come to expect. But Pappano's approach and the orchestras effort are irreproachable in their beauty and perhaps even more faithful to the score. I love it!

NYT Review