Monday, April 04, 2011

National Symphony Orchestra – Ivan Fischer, conductor; Jozsef Lendvay, Jr, violin. April 1, 2011.

Concert Hall at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Tier 1 (Seat C7, $65.)

Overture to La gazza ladra (1817) by Rossini (1792-1868).
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 6 (1817-1818) by Paganini (1782-1840).
Symphony No. 3 (“Rhenish”) in E-flat major, Op. 97(1850) by Robert Schumann (1810-1956).

When David asked me if I wanted to attend this concert, I said yes, enthusiastically. I always find it interesting to attend concerts in other cities to see how these events compare with what we get in the New York area. This time the group consisted of nine people, David’s group of 4, and Johnny’s group of 4.

We had dinner at Thai Place. We picked it for convenience and proximity to the GWU metro station where we could pick up the Kennedy Center shuttle. The food turned out to be good, and reasonably inexpensive.

I played in this concert hall about 35 years ago (it was very new then) and hadn’t been back since. I did go to the Opera House on a couple of occasions. It looks a bit worn at the edges (especially the carpet) but is generally in great shape. Our seats had a great view of the stage.

I had never heard of the opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) but certainly knew part of the tune. It is a short and delightful piece, and the orchestra gave it a spirited rendition.

I had never heard of Lendvay before, and neither had David. He ran onto the stage, and with his long hair could be confused with Paganin (perhaps that’s the idea). Paganini’s violin pieces were composed to mainly show off his skills as a violinist, so they tend to be long on flourishes and difficult passages. The piece was played at a quick tempo and the soloist rose to the challenge. He executed flawless the many technical challenges: double stop glissandos, flying arpeggios, staccatos, double harmonics, and runs. He should be forgiven for missing a note here or there. Indeed the audience applauded after the first movement which I thought was appropriate. After a relatively short second movement the piece continued without pause to the third. The three movements of the concerto are: Allegro maestoso, Adagio, and Rondo: Allegro spiritoso. Lendvay’s instrument is the 1693 “Ex-Ries” Stradivarius. One could quibble a bit with the tone quality at the higher pitches, but certainly it carried well and sounded excellent. The one knock on the performance is Lendvay seemed to be a bit careless during the less challenging pieces. He played an encore that I suspect he composed to showcase his own technical ability.

I heard a Schumann symphony not that long ago and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to this performance. Unfortunately, the best adjective to describe the performance is “uninspired.” The sounds are clear enough, the players were quite together, and the balance between the voices was good. Yet there was little dynamic variation or emotion attached to the player. I think Fischer tried to inject some life towards the end, but it was too little, too late. The four movements are Lebhaft, Scherzo:Sehr massig, Nicht schnell, Feierlich, and Lebhaft.

Both the soloist and the conductor were born in Budapest, perhaps this is how the connection between them was made.

The acoustics of the auditorium were reasonable, but not brilliant. There were quite a few empty seats.

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