LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3
Last evening’s ASO concert was one of those opportunities to appreciate greatness. The orchestra sounded like it is a top-tier ensemble. And I think I know why. More on that later. .. The Beethoven overture is enjoyable with the nice touch of an off-stage trumpet. At the start of the piece there were some missteps in the winds and brass, which lead me to believe that it was going to be another mediocre concert, but fortunately that all changed with the performance of the Liszt piano concerto. I am not all that familiar with that piece, since I have not paid much attention to the oeuvre of Liszt. Of those pieces that I know, they are bombastic and colorful. He did not hesitate to write fortissimo, using bright and colorful orchestration. I am more familiar with the works of movie-music composers Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, and Dmitri Tiomkin, who drew upon the Liszt tradition. This piano concerto is not in the traditional three-movement structure and it is played without break. It strikes me as more of a rhapsody, but I guess Liszt could call it whatever he wanted. The orchestra and soloist were finely coordinated without either dominating the other- it was a real partnership. Kiril Gerstein was wonderful. He has a large and strong tone that resonated beautifully in the weird acoustics of ASO Symphony Hall. His fingers flew with great accuracy and Sinaisky paid close attention to the pianist in order to ensure that the orchestra provided sure accompaniment. The piece requires the use of the entire keyboard, with many runs swirling around themes. Gerstein was certainly up to the task, and he received a deserved standing ovation with numerous curtain calls. In response, he played an encore of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”, arranged by Earl Wide, who, to our collective loss, recently died. Wild was frequently a purveyor of light classical or pop classical music. His arrangement here was full of Lisztian-like runs swirling around the Gershwin melody. Again, Gerstein was masterful and again received several curtain calls.
One note, in the middle of the Liszt there is a slight silent pause. Unfortunately, a cell phone went off in the middle of the row in which I was seated. It had an obnoxious ring tone. In addition, the owner must have been perplexed about how to turn it off since it went on for awhile. I looked to my right and saw the phone was in the hands of an older lady who was struggling to master the errant phone. Sinaisky briefly delayed continuing until the phone was silenced. He looked perturbed, as he should. I found the incident both irritating and hilarious!
Stravinky’s “Petruska” is one of the masterpieces of 20th century music, along with the composer’s “Rite of Spring” and “Firebird” ballets. This is complex music requiring virtuosic playing from all the sections of the orchestra. At times, it has an unusual rhythmic structure that must be very difficult to count! The ensemble of the orchestra as first-rate, and the soloists throughout were excellent, save the tuba in its solos. I can’t be too critical because it’s an unwieldy instrument that does not frequently have the spotlight on it so I am not really sure what to expect anyway. The bassoon solo at the beginning of the piece was wonderful. Its deep and rich reedy tone was powerful. The percussion section played admirably, underscoring and focusing the rich rhythms. The brass had a golden sound, so much different than the stridency that I have come to expect from them. This is exciting music with occasional dissonance that anticipates the much grittier and thunderous “Rite”. All in all, this was a fine performance.
So, you might, ask, why did I like the ASO so much more this time? First, I was seated about three rows in front of the stage, to the left. This is the second time I have sat this in section. In most halls, this is not necessarily a desirable location, but at the ASO Symphony Hall, it seems to mute the stridency of the brass. Second, I believe, was Sinaisky. He walked onto the stage with hair so high he looked like “Eraserhead.” He walked as if his patent-leather shoes were too tight. But on the podium, he took command of the orchestra. He uses a baton that he moves from hand to hand. He is no mere human metronome. He cues the orchestral sections and, through his motions, instructs them on what he wants. He particularly focused on the violins seemingly to encourage more rubato. I have noticed in the past that the ASO strings do not play with the passion that I have seen in many orchestras. In its halcyon days under conductor Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia strings swayed with synchronicity when they played. Only the first chairs in the first violins have this same intensity in the ASO. Sinaisky is not a well-known conductor but I believe he is of the first order. While I don’t have a real clue about this, he seemed to have a real rapport with the orchestra. Robert Spano, the ASO music director, strikes me as having a bit of an intellectual approach to conducting, that is, he seems less involved, in contrast to Sinaisky’s total involvement. In spite of high hair and tight shoes, Sinaisky is a winner.