Friday, I went to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra morning concert. With a clear understanding of their audience, the marketers had advertised the Blue Danube Waltz and Brahms’ “sunny” Second Symphony, but I was there for the Berg Violin Concerto.
I got bored during the long string of beautifully turned tunes in the Strauss waltz. Langrée had some lovely expressive touches, though sometimes they felt a bit forced. Overall, the orchestra convinced me that they weren’t really Viennese.
The Brahms, though also Viennese, is in the orchestra’s wheelhouse. It was spectacular! They followed that with a delightfully energetic Brahms Hungarian Dance as an encore.
For me, the highlight of the concert was the Berg Concerto, which I had not heard for years. It is a virtuoso ensemble piece for the entire orchestra, with the soloist taking a leading, but certainly not always dominant role. The violinist Augustin Hadelich, Louis Langrée, and the orchestra delivered a magnificent performance. Hadelich played with emotion and grace; nothing coming from his violin sounded difficult or awkward. The orchestra handled the intricacies of the ensemble with mastery, and the complex, often sweet, harmonies were well tuned and never muddy. I found myself swept up in the music, alternately delighted and terrified, but ultimately uplifted.
I heard the orchestra play this same work in 2007, with violinist Isabelle van Keulen and Paavo Järvi conducting. Then, I wrote an essay about the piece, and more generally, about the style, publishing it on my wife’s web site. Now that I have this biog, I thought I would use this occasion to re-post this old essay.
The question arises as to which performance I liked better. Of course, with so many years between them, it is impossible to judge fairly. However, there is one detail mentioned in my essay on the performance by Järvi which came out quite differently under Langrée. In the Järvi performance, the final, lustrous chord was incredibly soft, and over it, I could easily hear the melodic line rise from the solo bass viol, through the solo parts in the other strings, ending with the lead soloist in the stratosphere. Under Langrée, this chord was simply too loud, and I could not hear the line until the high solo entered. The chord was still heavenly beautiful, but symbolic rise into heaven in the solo parts was obscured. In this detail, the performance under Järvi was better.
This orchestra is among the best in world. If you haven’t heard it recently, now would be a good time. The concert repeats Saturday and Sunday.