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In Performance: NSO, Morlot, Groh

In today's Washington Post: The NSO Produces Mixed Results on a Night of Emotional Music, by Anne Midgette.

By Anne Midgette  |  October 9, 2009; 6:24 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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For me, on paper, last night's program didn't offer much. While I had heard of Martinu, I could not bring to mind anything of his I had heard. The Francesca da Rimini is not one of my favorite Tchaikovsky pieces nor is the Brahms first piano concerto. I had not heard of the soloist Friere nor his replacement Groh and so I had no opinion on the substitution and no expectations other than the casual concert goer's conceit "If I haven't heard of him, he's probably not so good." Ditto for the conductor Ludovic Morlot, who was also unknown to me. So much for reduced expectations as I was completely captivated by the entire program and was on the edge of my seat (I have an obstructed view) for most of the concert. I don't suppose you could call Martinu contemporary as he shed his mortal coil a while ago and "The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca" was published in 1953. He is no more contemporary than Bartok or Shostakovich. The piece seemed a little disjointed, jumping from dissonant phrases to lush harmonic cords leaving me wishing I could have heard a little more development of this or that idea. But the overall effect was highly enjoyable and left me thinking I would like very much to hear this piece again. The success of the remainder of the program was due to Morlot and Groh. While Anne’s review sounded a little like she was disappointed in the orchestra (except for the cellos), I thought they all sounded at their best. The Francesca da Rimini was clear and exciting and as Anne noted, in spite of the many climaxes throughout, the whirlwind at the end was extremely satisfying. I liked the orchestral restraint in the Brahms piano concerto and the balance between the soloist and the orchestra sounded more like an intimate duet than an aborted symphony. Except for the very familiar themes, for me it was almost a new piece. The subtlety of the blending between soloist and orchestra, especially the strings, occasionally caught me off guard. Groh began the concerto with some flamboyant waving of arms that I find annoying but these quickly disappeared as he seemed to forget he was performing and lose himself in the music. Yes there were a couple of missed notes but these in no way distracted from his musicianship. I had a great time and look forward to hearing performances by both Groh and Morlot, especially Morlot, in the future.

Posted by: William Kirchhoff | October 9, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for your excellent review, Mr Kirchhoff. Your review here in the WP makes me want to try to buy a ticket to this NSO program, if one is still available for $20 or $25. (My wife gets vertigo from the side, obstructed view seats, as do I sometimes.)

I did want to point out, however, that Shostakovich (d.1975) did live at least 16 years longer than either Bartok or Martinu. For example, Shostakovich’s great Symphonies No. 13 and 14 (championed and recorded [#13] by Mstislav Rostrapovich and the National Symphony, and both with texts largely by 20th c. poets) were products of the 1960s – the same general time as Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and Kristof Penderecki’s "Auschwitz Oratorio."

I recall hearing Martinu’s “Memorial to Lidice” with the New York Philharmonic in NYC in 1978, and think that I may have heard it again at the Kennedy Center – perhaps with a visiting orchestra, if not the NSO.

I can’t now recall whether or not Washington, D.C.’s great conductor J. Reilly Lewis conducted Martinu’s “Gilgamesh” oratorio here – although I think that he did (although most likely not at the Kennedy Center). (Los Angeles may have Dudamel, but Washington, D.C. has J. Reilly Lewis.)

PS. I had mixed feelings listening on Wednesday night to the delayed broadcast, from a few years back, of Ivan Fischer conducting the NSO in Brahms's Symphony #2.

Posted by: snaketime1 | October 9, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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