Friday, June 16, 2017

New Jersey Symphony – Xian Zhang, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano. June 10, 2017.

Count Basie Theater, Red Bank, NJ.  Balcony (Seat E108, $38).

Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 () by Brahms ().
Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 (1937) by Shostakovich (1906-1975).

A couple of days ago we had an impressive season finale for the New York Phil; the program for tonight’s NJSO’s season finale is also quite impressive.  Powerhouse Bronfman playing Brahms’s second piano concerto and one of Shostakovich’s popular but difficult symphonies constitute a great program for any orchestra.

The most memorable melody for the Brahms’ concerto is first heard from the horn.  The first phrase was good, but there were a few misfired notes in the second phrase.  The melody is simple enough, so I think it had to be nerves that caused the stumble; so I felt bad more than I felt cheated.

Unfortunately, this unpropitious start lingered on as the concerto went on.  There were no more blatant mistakes, but very minor one became amplified, hard as I tried to ignore them.  Such is the workings of the human (or at least my) mind.

I have read quite a few people describe this concerto as being more cerebral than the first one.  It certainly didn’t start in the angular manner the first concerto did, but there were many moments when I thought the whole thing was too loud.  Indeed Bronfman sounded much harsher than usual at times.  There is however no doubt this is a virtuoso piece that Bronfman made look easy.  I just wish it provoked more than just “awe” from me.

The cello plays a prominent role in the third movement, and Spitz really made the melody sing.  The Program Notes aptly describes the instrument as “the warmest and most human-sounding” string instrument.

Yes, a concerto thrives on the tension and cooperation between the soloist and the orchestra.  I wish there was more cooperation tonight, that’s all.

The long concerto (46 minutes per the notes) has four movements: Allegro non troppo, Allegro appassionato, Andante, and Allegretto grazioso.

The applause was one of the loudest and most prolonged I have observed in New Jersey.  I hope that will be a factor Bronfman considers if he is asked to come back; that may offset the many empty seats in the theater.

Bronfman was enthusiastically applauded by the audience after performing Brahms's Second Piano Concerto.

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony certainly is a difficult piece to pull off.  In looking over the score, I was wondering how an orchestra could keep things precise with a double dotted eighth note followed by two 32nd notes.  It would be difficult to do it precisely as a soloist, much less when you have a whole section playing together.  NJSO actually did all right in this front.

Shostakovich was criticized by Stalin for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and wrote this symphony as a way to redeem himself.  I am impressed that Stalin actually knew music well enough to calibrate how revolutionary a particular piece is.  I am also impressed that Shostakovich actually understood as he obvious could write in such a way that fixes those “mistakes.”  In any case, the fifth got him rehabilitated.

Regardless of its political significance, the piece supposedly talks about the struggle of the individual, with Shostakovich saying “… the finale resolves the tragedy and tension … on a joyous, optimistic note.” Not unlike the program for Sibelius’s violin concerto.

Having “studied” the first two of the four movements, I got to appreciate the “rhythm theme” and the interplay of horns in the second movement.  The markings of the movements are simple: Moderato, Allegretto, Largo, and Allegro non troppo.

Many people we know also bought tickets to the concert.  One couple actually was saying they would like to go to more concerts.  Good news indeed.

We were at Ellie’s in the afternoon, so we postponed dinner (quarter pounder with cheese) until after the concert.

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