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In Performance: NSO

In today's Washington Post: The NSO offers an evening of musical story-telling, by Anne Midgette.

By Anne Midgette  |  October 2, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Your review didn't make it into the Washington Post that was delivered to my front lawn today. Not surprising as it was a long concert and I wondered if you would get your review in. I am afraid that I was disappointed by last night's concert. Much of the problem is the familiarity of Beethoven's Pastoral symphony. This is a special work and its importance to my musical experience is indicated by the fact that I remember my first hearing, on a Sunday afternoon broadcast of the New York Philharmonic on a rainy autumn day while I was doing my homework my freshman year at the University of Illinois in 1954. It must be a challenge for a conductor to attempt to make yet another performance of this great work reveal something new. Indeed, I did hear a few bits that were new, but at the expense of a performance which to my taste seemed too slow, almost ponderous and plodding. I liked your Watteau/Breugel comparison, by the way. I prefer my romps in the country to be a little more light and lilting. Also, the brass seemed to be a little harsh. But this is all more a reflection of my own taste for a very familiar work.

The Bartok on the other hand was completely unfamiliar, though still sounding like Bartok. It was interesting because I felt the supertitles were essential for an enjoyment of the work. Had I been listening to this piece while trying to do my homework on a rainy autumn afternoon, I would have probably turned it off. Some ballet music can stand on its own in a concert performance and I think of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, but this was essentially music to support the action on the stage. It was more like a film score in that sense. That being said, I am certainly glad I had a chance to hear this with the aid of a somewhat witty stage direction and a charming introduction in a Hungarian accent (as you noted.)

Posted by: William Kirchhoff | October 2, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I've finally gotten around to reading Anne Midgette's review of the NSO's Beethoven/Bartok concert. In my comment on Classical Beat's review of the Baltimore Symphony concert I lamented not having seen any coverage of the NSO's performance. I should have known that the indefatigable Ms. Midgette would not have failed to deliver one of her insightful critiques, and I subsequently remembered how to use the Search engine (I did miss it in the print edition). Anyway, having read both Ms. Midgette's critique and the reader's comment, I stand by my assessment that, on Saturday evening, the NSO sounded better, and more more "together," than I can recall them sounding in a long time (admittedly, my attendance is a bit spotty). I suppose that, at this late date, it's a little difficult to add anything new to the Pastoral Symphony. But, with the greatest respect to the other audience member who posted on this site, where he heard "ponderous and plodding," I experienced a relaxed and unhurried pace that allowed this celebration of the natural world (and our place in it) to work its magic in a surprisingly subtle way. And I can't help but rave about how good the strings sounded. But the Bartok was a real revelation. Again, the NSO strings sounded richer than I can recall in quite a while. I don't understand why this fun little gem of a score isn't performed more often. And, as I said in my other post, pity that Ivan Fischer is just sort of passing through town.

Posted by: tedloud | October 5, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

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