I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brussels

Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
Ingvar Lidholm: Poesis
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony #9 in E minor “From the New World”, Op. 95

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 22 January 2016

This concert of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) at the Brussels Center for Fine Arts marked the inauguration of the Dutch presidency of the Council of the European Union. A feisty event, attended by both the Dutch and Belgian royal couples and a host of excellencies – which accounted for an impossibly 30 minutes late start, but also proved for a city still in the throes of terrorist activity aimed at our way of life, that things can be normal after all.

And what better way is there to escape from grim-visaged reality than a concert with great music that sublimates our cultural achievements? The RCO was conducted by the veteran Swedish maestro Herbert Blomstedt. At 88 years and 7 months Blomstedt is, incidentally, the oldest guest conductor in the history of the orchestra, even surpassing the legendary Pierre Monteux who was “only” 88 and 4 months. Not that anybody would have been aware of this, because the vivid and impish personality of the Swede totally belied his age just as much as his music making. Conducting without a baton, and for most of the concert, from memory, Blomstedt offered a finely contrasting program with two popular works, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Dvořák’s “From the New World”, framing a modern rarity (although “modern” here is already well over 50 years old too) Poesis from the Swedish composer Ingvar Lidholm (b. 1921).

From the opening Tristan it became clear that while Blomstedt would treat us generously to the beauty of the RCO – and he knows more than anybody to use that beauty in a constructive way – he would also keep everything solidly under control. One can imagine a more emotional Wagner, or indeed a more immediately dramatic one, yet Blomstedt capitalized fully on the silken strings and the mellow woodwinds of the RCO to let the lyricism of Tristan speak with unforced eloquence in some breathtaking crescendos.

While the orchestra was being rearranged, Blomstedt undeterred by the presence of royalty, picked up a microphone and introduced, in an often hilarious manner – vocal imitations and his familiar reference to mushrooms haphazardly growing in the forest and all – Ingvar Lidholm’s piece Poesis. Composed for the 50th anniversary of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in 1963 and premiered by Blomstedt the following year, its experimental and seemingly chaotic modernity stood in stark contrast to the melodious, organized world of the preceding Wagner. Poesis remains a striking 20-minute sonic exploration, with startling crescendos and virtuosic solos, often challenging the orchestra to extremes and creating sound in unconventional ways, like dropping the lid prop of the piano or rustling sandpaper. Blomstedt clearly adores the work and just as in Tristan he was able to inspire the RCO musicians to sound their best. In the end, Poesis was a great deal of fun, with in particular superb solo passages from piano (Jeroen Bal), double bass and percussion.

Dvořák’s Ninth received an elegant but powerful, and often stunningly beautiful reading. Tempi were well-judged throughout, dynamics were controlled, yet if there was an emotion that Blomstedt was willing to share it seems to have been one of joy. I don’t recall hearing such an optimistic, sunny reading of the opening Allegro molto with lightly sprung rhythms, delicate textures and deft phrasing. Even the Largo, swiftly but attractively played, didn’t linger too much on melancholy or longing. This was mostly happy Dvořák, the “New World” symphony as a masterful continuation of In Nature’s Realm, admiring nature in all its richness of color and tones. The closing movement, with irresistible drive, was a logical culmination of joy. And how many times can you hear such a tight ensemble, such well-judged orchestral balance and transparency, and such colorful instrumentalists? The RCO brass, particularly the horns, were simply glorious.

The audience greeted orchestra and conductor with a well-deserved standing ovation. Blomstedt offered a Slavonic dance in return, naturally one of the most lifting ones, the fast Op. 46/1 in C Major. The RCO is a fabulous orchestra as Blomstedt was readily reminding us. He sent us home with a big smile, and what more can one ask, even if deep down we realized that this orchestra has even more in store than we were given tonight.

Copyright © 2016, Marc Haegeman

First published on Classical Net  (http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/haegeman/20160122-brussels-rco-blomstedt.php)


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The Sound of Bohemia

Bedřich Smetana: Moldau (Vltava) from “Ma Vlast”
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony #9 in E minor “From the New World”, Op. 95
Leoš Janáček: Sinfonietta

Anima Eterna Brugge/Jos van Immerseel
Bruges, Concertgebouw, 13 March 2015

Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna Brugge have long since gone beyond exploring the Baroque and Classical eras. Their “historically aware” performances from the last fifteen years now range from Monteverdi to Gershwin. Based on the use and implementation of historically accurate instruments and performance techniques, as well as extensive and critical archival research, their projects have often warranted a fascinating, at times revelatory rediscovery of familiar scores. Their current “Sound of Bohemia” heard at a concert in Bruges focuses on the three most significant Czech composers – Smetana, Dvořák and Janáček – and covers a time span of roughly fifty years. All three are presented with one of their most popular works: The Moldau (1874), the Ninth Symphony “From the New World” (1893), and the Sinfonietta (1926).
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Gallic finesse and Georgian fire

César Franck: Sonata for Violin & Piano in A Major
Edvard Grieg: Sonata for Violin & Piano #3 in C minor, Op. 45
Antonín Dvořák: Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75b

Renaud Capuçon, violin
Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Erato 08256-462501 DDD 66:20

Renaud Capuçon and Khatia Buniatishvili

Renaud Capuçon and Khatia Buniatishvili play romantic chamber music

French violinist Renaud Capuçon and Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili have been frequent partners in chamber music concerts. Their complementing temperaments – Gallic finesse and Georgian fire – have proven an exhilarating blend, while the charisma and winning stage presence of these brilliantly talented young artists evidently add to the fascination. In their debut disc as a duo for the resurrected Erato label they team up for an attractive program containing three romantic chamber music pieces of various origin, remarkably all written within the same time span 1886-1887.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Dvořák in Hungarian mode

Antonín Dvořák:
Slavonic Dance, Op. 72 #8
Concerto for Cello in B minor, Op. 104
Legend, Op. 59 #10
Symphony #8, Op. 88

Slavonic Dances, Op. 72 #1,2
Concerto for Piano in G minor, Op. 33
Legend, Op. 59 #6
Symphony #9 “From the New World”, Op. 95

Daniel Müller-Schott, cello
Stephen Hough, piano
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
Bruges, Concertgebouw, 22-23 May 2014

Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer

Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer

Whoever considers classical music concerts a dull affair should give the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their music director Iván Fischer a try. The Hungarians guarantee not only music-making of the highest order, they also present it in a surprise package full of spirit and fun. When they opened their small Dvořák festival in Bruges with the ravishing 8th Slavonic Dance from the Op. 72 set, nobody could have guessed who the man was, sitting somewhat awkwardly on the soloist podium to the left of the conductor. He was a member of the orchestra alright, but it was only after a couple of minutes, when he took a small bell out of his pocket, we realized he was the percussionist. Not without some theatricality he ticked it a dozen of times as if it was the greatest solo part ever. It was a funny touch that set the congenial tone for the rest of the evening.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Buniatishvili in London

Jean Sibelius: Karelia Suite
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Antonin Dvorak: Symphony #7 in D minor, Op. 70

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
London, Royal Festival Hall, 7 April 2013

At first glance, the concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi at the London Royal Festival Hall on April 7 couldn’t have been further removed from the “blazing originality” label that the orchestra’s 2012/13 cycle at the Southbank Centre brandishes on its posters and programs. Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony seem rather safe Sunday matinee fare instead. Yet with an electrifying Khatia Buniatishvili bringing insight and character to the Grieg, with an inspired maestro and above all a Philharmonia in tremendous doing, the concert was nothing short of revelatory.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Roman Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák: Symphony #9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104

Mario Brunello, cello
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia – Roma/Antonio Pappano
EMI Classics 914102-2 DDD 2CDs 86:35

Dvorak by Pappano

Antonio Pappano plays Dvořák

Hyped as a “marriage made in heaven”, Antonio Pappano ushered his Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome out of obscurity into the international spotlight. Guided since 2005 by the busy maestro – who combines his Roman post with that of music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – Santa Cecilia embarked upon a series of tours, recording at the same time for EMI Classics popular symphonic works from Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Respighi and Mahler, as well as operas from Rossini and Puccini. Their most recent release bravely pairs two Antonin Dvořák’s warhorses, the 9th Symphony “From the New World” and the Cello Concerto, taped live and assembled from a handful of concerts in Rome in 2011/12.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Alice Sara Ott at the Dvořák Prague Festival

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1 in B Flat minor, Op. 23
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony #9 in E minor “From the New World”, Op. 95

Alice Sara Ott, piano
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/James Gaffigan
Prague, Rudolfinum, 9 September 2011

The Dvořák Prague Festival is an annual event in the Czech Republic primarily dedicated to the music of that country’s most popular composer. In late summer the Festival hosts a splendid lineup of international guests at the Rudolfinum, the posh late-19th century neo-renaissance building which boasts with its Dvořák Hall one of Europe’s finest concert venues and has been home to the reputed Czech Philharmonic Orchestra since 1946. Legendary Czech maestro’s like Václav Talich, Karel Ančerl, Rafael Kubelik and Václav Neumann all took the podium here and it was Antonín Dvořák himself who conducted in the Rudolfinum the Czech Philharmonic in its maiden concert in 1896 – performing among others his 9th Symphony.
Read the full review on Classical Net