Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oundjian Fifths

The conductor Peter Oundjian was up last night with the university Philharmonia, for Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. It came off fantastically well. This is actually the second time this year they've had Oundjian come in to conduct -- back in January, he did Vaughan Williams's Fifth here, which was also a great performance. I've known Oundjian's name but I don't believe I'd heard him conduct before. I like his style: these symphonies are both highly expressive affairs, but he kept them vigorous and direct and a little edgy when it's called for. And he keeps a strong guiding hand on the phrasing and tempo changes, too, while keeping them authentic to the piece's sensibility -- he strikes me as similar to Manfred Honeck in this skill.

Pete will be too jaded to agree with me, but to anyone else I'd say that Tchaikovsky's Fifth is a wildly satisfying piece of music. It hits a sweet spot between opulent high romanticism and fate-obsessed sturm and drang. Tchaikovsky's dramatic sensibility is pitch-perfect here, and the music is plotted as strongly as a well-constructed play. The first and last movements don't so much develop their themes symphonically as churn them up into a fervor, mounting and dissipating and sweeping you along moment to moment. And meanwhile you've got a couple of classic big melodies: the horn solo kicking off the second movement was lent a marvelous, earthy richness by its player last night. My favorite part of the Fifth, though, is the nearly themeless drama whipped up in parts of the last movement. It's like a bunch of demons running up and down the stairs.

No applause at the false ending! Sophisticated crowd here.

The concerto last night was Serge Koussevitsky's Double Bass Concerto, which was co-composed to some extent by Reinhold Gliere and survives as a minor repertoire piece on the basis of being a believable romantic exercise for an unusual solo instrument. No knock on the soloist, who carried himself strongly, but you could improve this concerto automatically by just transcribing it for cello. Of course, then you'd just pick out a better cello concerto. And no knock on Koussevitsky, who of course became a peerless conductor and commissioner and champion of midcentury American music.

Vaughan Williams's Fifth, going back to January, is pretty masterful, too: the British pastorale put through a war-haunted filter and made into a shadowy illusion. Vaughan Williams had a superb command of string textures, which you need to hear in concert for the full effect. Plus you've got a third movement which basically sounds like every movie soundtrack ever written, only a lot better. The opener to that concert was totally unrelated, Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, but I don't think you ever need excuses to whip out a fun showpiece.


Blogger Pete said...

I am too jaded to agree with Jack.

But, actually, back when I was 15, 16, I really quite dug Tchaik 5 (having crawled up out of the Rimsky-Korsakov phase that typified my early interest in symphonic music), though even then, I suppose, I preferred his 4th Symphony. And his 6th is the only one that I would ever listen to these days, I think.

But, back when I was 15, I still liked Billy Joel, so clearly, my taste has improved since then.

10/24/2010 11:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home