CSO plays DWGs: Stravinsky, Borodin, and Brahms

I went to the CSO Thursday night, and everyone was confused--myself included--why I was there, for there was no new music on the program. They couldn't even find my tickets at the box office. After I managed to get in, I saw Stravinsky's Fairy Kiss Suite, some dances by Borodin, and Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto. Not a groundbreaking program. Not particularly interesting. But lovely and really well done: easy like Sunday morning.

The Stravinsky was a pretty tepid way to open a program, but it gave members of the orchestra a chance to shine: Mathieu Dufour, everyone's favorite flutist, had a lovely lyrical solo; John Bruce Yeh on clarinet combined forces with principal cello John Sharp in a unison duo that fused the two timbres into one hybrid. But overall, it was pretty light. Stravinsky's 1928 score comes several years into his neo-classical phase, in which he tried recreate a classical-era affect without the forms or structures that made it work. Some pieces (Pulcinella) almost succeed in sounding old--but fail at sounding good. I generally hate this period of his output but found The Fairy's Kiss Suite pleasantly listenable: light and quirky with some interesting orchestration: easily forgettable.
The second piece, Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, was a replacement for Varèse's Arcana. The Varèse was what I was hoping to see, and when it got replaced, I held a sort of grudge against it--like a child unwilling to accept a step-parent. And, I thought it made the program a bit heavy on dances. After just a few notes, it won me over, and I accepted its place in the canon. As it turns out, I knew this music but forgot what it was called. Its success was less about individuals (though there were some great solos) and more about the sheer mass of the orchestra in tutti. It reminded me what I like about rock concerts. It's totally the stuff of pops concerts--for a good reason.
After the intermission, Leif Ove Andsnes hammered out Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto. Precise and correct, the Norwegian pianist made the virtuosic passages seem easy--almost too easy. The symphony continued to sound great--except for some issues in the winds tuning to the piano. Unlike Borodin, Brahms gave the low brass a rest: the horns sounded great but the trumpets looked bored, and the trombones didn't even get to sit on stage. Seeing the CSO without brass is like seeing a castrato sing; it's sort of fascinating, but you're aware that there is something missing.
The evening left me with renewed esteem for Mathieu Dufour, John Bruce Yet, the entire string section and, in particular, John Sharp. But I also left with an eerie sense of dread--like we were trapped in a time bubble in which nothing ever changes. It was strange seeing nothing even remotely new--or recent. [Get used to it; next season looks pretty dismal.] It also reminded me of what I like and don't like in music. As a pianist, I have always gravitated towards music that has interesting rhythm and harmony--rather than melody. Hence, Rite of Spring but not Pucinella. Wagner more than Brahms. Romantic more than Classical. Radiohead more than Coldplay.
I'll be headed back next week, of course, to see Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto. New is the new new.

Filed under: CSO, review

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