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The Brahms-Schoenberg Club

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
02/12/1999 -  
Johannes Brahms: Violin Concerto; Symphony #2
Arnold Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 16

Vadim Repin (violin)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly (conductor)

In this age of thematic programming it is important to establish a connection between the composers on a given bill of fare. There is a vital link between Brahms and Schoenberg, explored at length in the latter's essay "Brahms The Progressive". Schoenberg revered the Hamburg master and, after orchestrating the Piano Quartet in G Minor, wrote in his reasons for doing so "…first of all, I love the piece…" The personal connection between the German and the Austrian was Brahms' protégé and eventual successor at the Vienna Philharmonic Gustav Mahler, who provided much encouragement and support to the young lion of the Second Viennese School (it was Mahler who suggested that Schoenberg score Verklaerte Nacht for string orchestra). It seemed perfectly natural for Riccardo Chailly to combine works of such beauty and power in the first of two concerts this weekend with his Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (part of the Great Performers Series at Lincoln Center).

The Romantic violin concerti beg for a style of playing not readily available today, especially among the young. It was with great joy therefore to hear Vadim Repin play with a healthy sense of vibrato, learned in the violin schools of his native Russia and reminiscent of the manner of Elman and Milstein. No violinist trained today in the United States, regardless of national origin, would ever be taught this authentic nineteenth century art and this is not only unfortunate but seems to fly in the face of the period instrument movement's spirit of "authenticity" (this seems to be a politically correct buzzword meaning "lacking in true emotion"). In any case Mr. Repin is delighted to show off his skill in this high art and is an excellent phrase builder as well. Each of his passages was heartfully poetic and his pauses before the two cadenzas were emblems of his serious approach to these expressive sections. The RCO is a magnificent orchestra and established themselves during the long introduction as the ensemble with the most burnished sound in the world today. Although he was incredibly lucky to inherit both these wonderful Dutchmen and the sweet sounding Philadelphians (where is he principal guest conductor) it must be pointed out that the two orchestras currently possessing the highest level of ensemble sound are both influenced greatly by this one remarkable man. It was an unusual move to open a concert with a concerto and this gambit became even more refreshing when Mr. Chailly, encouraged by the genuine outpouring of emotion from the audience, allowed Mr. Repin and the orchestra to perform a virtuoso encore before intermission.

The most revolutionary work in our most revolutionary of centuries has to be the Five Pieces for Orchestra of Schoenberg. For the first time the forces of atonality were unleashed by the full orchestra in a pentateuch of raw power and overwhelming sonic luster. The RCO was able to handle the difficult idiom and performed a wildly exciting Premonitions followed by a sensitive portrait of Yesterdays complete with stylized childrens' taunting and a xylophone clock. The third piece The Changing Chord-Summer Morning by a Lake-Colors depends on very subtle dynamic and timbral changes to one single chord. Unfortunately these changes were not discernable with Mr. Chailly's totally unsuitable fast tempo and the shimmering minimalist illusion so delicately crafted by Schoenberg (and imitated unsuccessfully by Glass and Riley in our own time) was destroyed and replaced by what sounded like endless repetition of the same chord sans Klangfarbenmelodie. The group made a nice recovery with Peripetia and the strings were suitably lush in the Obbligato Recitative, one of several Schoenbergian send-ups of the music of his beloved Vienna. All in all a good performance of very difficult music and the crowd was vocal in its appreciation (although there were a few of the requisite grumblers still in attendance).

The program concluded with a gorgeous interpretation of the Symphony #2 of Brahms, filled with the air of the mountains and the sheer joy of living "free but happy". Mr. Chailly, who was an excellent accompanist for Mr. Repin's Romantic interpretation of the concerto, showed himself a true Romantic in the sensitive pause in the midst of the second movement and the immediately following swell of marvelous stringed richness. The horn section was excellent in the passages in which they are featured and called to mind the image of Brahms writing this music with his father in mind. They were especially strong at the very end of the finale, punctuating a noticeable crescendo and accelerando engineered by Mr. Chailly. Again the crowd was thrilled, calling the conductor back for numerous bows and showering praise on the orchestra and its individual section leaders. The RCO will be back on Sunday afternoon and I got the impression that, like me, many of the audience members will return as well.

To find out more about concerts at Lincoln Center you may consult their website at www.lincolncenter.org

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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