Concert Review – Verdi, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky – Shlomo Mintz, Theodore Kuchar

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Artscape Opera House

.

.
Verdi – La Forza del Destino Overture

The orchestra played well against passive acoustics, and the challenge of habituating their timing with an unfamiliar conductor. Having worked with many of the world’s top recording orchestras, Kuchar conducts with a level of expectation from the orchestra that has no doubt accumulated from his prolific career. I enjoyed his dramatic pauses, and his passionate, expressive coda, in which the orchestra responded magnificently. Sergie Burdukov’s melancholy clarinet theme, continued later by Oscar Kitten, beautifully reminded us why Verdi is so irresistible. Brass was concise, with good control.
.
.
Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto

1. With only one bar’s notice, we were honoured by listening to one of the brightest stars of the international stage. Mintz performs with an attitude of such familiarity, both with his instrument and with his audience, that we were reassured of his expertise from the first moment. Feet firmly planted, the side of his jaw securing the “chin rest”, looking into the auditorium, he does not so much as glance at his fingers – and what tone his left hand brings to his sound. His cadenza was exhilarating – a befuddling blur of double stops and arpeggios – momentarily adapting a more stately pace, to bring out the baroque character of the composer’s reference to Bach’s D minor chaconne, before returning to the incredible demands of the movement’s closing passages.

Meanwhile, the orchestra performed with the same standard as my favourite recordings of this piece. Kuchar created a succession of sublime moments, in which the composer’s beloved genius could be admired: The second subject, in the Winds, was particularly outstanding. The horns were also commendable, deftly holding an ethereal bridge into the second movement.

2. This entire movement was sublime. My mind was free to wonder along with the music, and I was reminded how under-rated our orchestra is. Kuchar conjured a tranquil river, and Mintz floated upon it, an ornate vessel, propelled by exquisite forces of mystery.

3. Kuchar achieved a precise and synchronous opening from the full orchestra, succinctly presenting the customarily short platform from which Mendelssohn’s violin launches. (Our Felix seems to prefer not to waste time in introducing his soloist.) Mintz was technically brilliant, showing off his exquisite left hand technique, to which flutes Gabriele von Durkheim, Bridget Wilson, and Garreth Cederes, provided an inspiring counterpoint. The finish was a spectacular affirmation between orchestra and soloist, that brought the house to their feet before the last note had faded.
.

Encore: Paganini, Caprice no. 24
(Famously expanded, elaborated, and orchestrated by Brahms, Rachmaninov, and others, called “Paganini Variations”)

Arguably the most virtuosic work for violin, this encore was truly extraordinary. Mintz had as in utter disbelief. In the form of a theme and variations, the 10th variation (if my count is correct) features an extremely impressive technique called the “pull-off”: the fingers of the left hand pluck the string while holding a lower note, creating rapid cascades of pizzicato arpeggios and descending passages. Paganini combines this technique with staccato strikes from the bow, to produce a sound that is every bit as implausible now, as I’m sure it was in 1820. The technique is rare in the violin repertoire. After an avalanche of “Violin’s Most Scary Techniques – Kids, Do Not Try This At Home”, delivered with flawless intonation, over extreme terrain, I knew that I had witnessed one of the most memorable performances of my life.
.
.

Shlomo Mintz, Louis Heyneman, Theodore Kuchar

Shlomo Mintz, Louis Heyneman, Theodore Kuchar

.

.

Tchaikovsky – symphony no. 6 “Pathetique”

1. There is something nostalgic about hearing Tchaikovsky in the Artscape opera house. His beloved clarinets and beautiful strings balanced and flowed like dancers, with brass giving strong support, and good entries. Kuchar aptly recreated Tchaikowsky’s mood – an almost bipolar juxtaposition of sugary Disney, and profound devastation. We were serenaded again by Oscar Kitten, clarinet, and a scene-stealing bass clarinet solo by Beatrix du Toit.

2. Celli delivered a delightfully whimsical subject, performing as one instrument. Winds were nicely managed, providing the composer’s signature sound.

3. Violins made an exquisite, synchronous opening to an exciting march, quickly joined by confident oboes, carrying the theme, while the celli kept a well timed pizzicato clock. Kuchar mastered an ingenious accelerando in the recapitulation, bringing the march to a more vigorous pace, which made for an electrifying, thundering close.

4. The orchestra painted a rich, dark sound for this devastated final movement, in full pathos for a great composer, who, behind the fabulous parade, was not always happy. With good leading by Krystiyan Chernev, the celli chaperoned the symphony to a sombre close. Eventually, clapping began, and built to another full standing house. We do love Tchaikowsky, even when he’s a bit sad.
.

.
Next week Thursday 28 August, City Hall:

Elgar Cockaigne, “In London Town”

Tchaikowsky piano concerto no. 1 in B-flat, Lukas Vondrace

Dvorak symphony no. 9 “From The New World”

.
.
Theodore Kuchar, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

.

.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s