Bay and Austin Symphony Celebrate Virtuosity!
Ginastera: Variaciones concertantes Op. 23Franck: Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra M. 46Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major S.125
Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
Anton Nel: pianoAustin Symphony Orchestra (ASO): Peter Bay, conductor
Michael and Susan Dell Hall
Long Center for the Performing Arts
Saturday, November 19, 2011
It is an indication of how far the Austin Symphony has come with Peter Bay in his fourteen seasons as music director and conductor, that the ASO could carry off a programme as demanding as this one; both the Ginastera and Hindemith works are veritable concertos for orchestra in the sense that they feature so many players in solo roles. Add another extraordinary artist in the person of pianist Anton Nel to play showy pieces by Franck and Liszt and you have an entire evening of virtuosity.
The Ginastera Variaciones concertantes is a chamber orchestra piece that manages to get some real excitement going in the final dance movement. Elsewhere, the composer shows a preference for soulful and melancholic variations, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to play - far from it. From the opening cello solo, played superbly by Douglas Harvey, there was never any question about the quality of this performance. Each of the featured soloists handled his or her challenge with authority. Special recognition must be given David Neubert who played the difficult double bass solo with remarkable accuracy and beauty of tone.
Hindemith’s set of variations on obscure pieces by Weber has been a crowd-pleaser since its premiere in 1944. The composer has a reputation for being turgid and academic at times in his music, but theSymphonic Metamorphosis is rich in orchestral colour and abounds with good humour. The fugue manages to be both an astonishing feat of contrapuntal mastery and great fun.
Speaking of mastery, Peter Bay was in complete control of this piece. Judging by the performance, all the difficult sections were thoroughly rehearsed. Balances and tempi were close to ideal. An excellent performance.
Anton Nel heads the Division of Keyboard Studies at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas. He is also a busy performer with a vast repertoire, ostensibly able to play anything written for his instrument. On this occasion, he concentrated on two warhorses from the Nineteenth Century romantic repertoire and played them as if they posed no technical challenges whatever.
We all, however, have likes and dislikes and I must confess that the Franck and the Liszt are not among my favourite pieces. I find their themes trite and their variations uninteresting. Although I have heard them played with more intensity and individuality by others, I can hardly fault Anton Nel for his approach. He played beautifully and the audience loved his performance. He rewarded them with an encore - a noble reading of the Liszt transcription of Schumann’s song Widmung.
For Something More…
Anton Nel is in charge of the Division of Keyboard Studies at the University of Texas; he is not, however, the only stellar performer on staff. Two nights earlier I heard Colette Valentine, one of Nel’s UT colleagues, play brilliantly with the Miró Quartet in music by Schubert (Trout Quintet) and Dvorák.
Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, "Classical Airs."
Photo by: Marita