Beethoven and Bartók were responsible for two very different expressions of the joy of music in the second concert of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s Autumn Season.
Alexander Gilman returned in a different role than last week, this time as a soloist. He seemed to have found a transcendent delight in playing Beethoven’s violin concerto.
Of course, it was up to the players of the CPO to do justice to these two very different pieces – the introspective, profound Beethoven, and the inventive sounds of Bartók – and they did. Daniel Boico conducted Bartók’s big and loud Concerto for Orchestra with glee, although he also proved himself capable of far more nuance as a partner in the sublime Beethoven.
The concert started with what the conductor presumably considered a throwaway piece. The Waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite is actually a delightful composition. It is very reminiscent of the more famous Waltz no. 2 from Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra (better known as the incorrectly-titled Jazz Suite no. 2). Boico clearly had no time for it, rushing it off in an undanceable tempo borrowed from whichever circle of hell it is that harbours the psycho clowns. Thankfully sanity returned after a curious three minutes.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D was a failure at its première, but has become a popular staple in the violin repertoire after his death.
During the long, serene intro, Gilman appeared transported, gazing upwards at the ceiling as if divining the music from the air around him. He then played some passages along with the first violins, and adjusted his tuning once more.
Then, with elegant sensitivity, he communed with the Muses in the high register of his violin. The change to the minor key intensified into exquisite, unbearable beauty. Nature played its part, too, adding an improvised obbligato of howling wind over Gilman’s harmonics and trills.
A round of applause erupted immediately after the final chord – a fitting response, despite the objections of a few traditionalists.
Another poignant lyrical moment came in the second movement – nothing but pizzicato strings and wind accompanying Gilman’s ethereal solo violin.
He exploited the tonal characteristics of his instrument tastefully in the upbeat third movement’s famous melody, creating contrasting colours in the middle and upper registers.
Gilman’s performance was deep and introspective, exactly what this work requires. He saved the fireworks for the cadenzas – the well known ones by Kreisler – but even these were thoughtful rather than flamboyant.
After the interval, the members of the orchestra had their chance to show off their soloistic ability in Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. Daniel Boico’s enthusiasm for big orchestral forces showed, and he was perhaps a bit overexcited in the first movement. His spirited tempo caused some finer details to be gobbled up by the acoustics of the City Hall, but his energy certainly left no room for boredom.
Bartók’s composition, one of his last, is brimful of peculiar and humorous delights. Some of my favourites in this concert were the dissonant muted trumpet duet in the second movement, and the “interruption” of the third movement (entitled “Interrupted Intermezzo”) – a Bartók-quoting-Shostakovich-quoting-Léhar tune from The Merry Widow.
A horn fanfare heralded the finale, followed by the violins fiddling up a storm. Among the many excellent passages – some frenzied, some calmer – the woodwind fugues suffered marginally from Boico’s tempo. No one would argue, though, that this was an immensely gratifying experience for musicians and audience alike.
Daniel Boico’s second concert was an overall success, but it’s the Beethoven that is likely to remain in the memory longest. His farewell for this season includes more Beethoven, a transcription, and a touch of Mahler.
The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra performed with Alexander Gilman on 6 April 2017.