No. 2 Overture
Concerto Op. 25
Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay
It’s not often that
one hears a harp soloist with a symphony orchestra. There are good reasons for
that; most importantly, it is not a fair fight. The harp by nature can produce
only a modest amount of sound, and is easily drowned out by even the smallest
orchestra. The sound a harp makes is produced by the fingerpicking of strings
and even a player with strong fingers can do only so much. Guitar sound is similarly
limited. While in modern times, harp (and guitar) soloists have sometimes
chosen to amplify their instruments, purists frown on this solution.
Ideal Compositional Textures Showcase Harp
In Austin last week,
Cleveland-based harpist Yolanda Kondonassis (photo: right) presented Alberto Ginastera’s Harp
Concerto, one of few frequently performed harp concertos. There was no
amplification and thanks to Ginastera’s very clever orchestration and conductor
Peter Bay’s command of balances, the audience had no problem hearing the harp.
(1916-1983) is Argentina’s foremost composer. Much of his music makes use of
folkloric elements from his native country, but his compositional techniques
were often extremely complex and experimental. Ginastera was also innovative in
his use of percussion instruments. All these elements come into play in the
Harp Concerto, and as mentioned earlier, Ginastera was unusually successful in
creating ideal textures for showcasing the harp.
The first and last
movements are full of sparkling colors and rhythmic
ingenuity and Kondonassis played brilliantly. The slow movement, however, is to
my mind the great weakness of this concerto. It seems to go on forever – aimlessly
– and the harp cadenza that follows it does not really provide much of an
opportunity for the soloist to shine.
Fidelio Overtures: No Contest?
The concert opened
with another installment in conductor Peter Bay’s traversal of all four
overtures written by Beethoven for his opera Fidelio. This concept is
interesting in theory but not so successful in practice. Audiences can’t really
appreciate how the composer rewrote and reorganized the thematic material
unless the overtures are played back to back. Also, if the truth be told, the
Leonore No. 3 Overture is Beethoven’s last word on the subject and far superior
to any of the others; the Leonore No. 2 played at this concert sounds like a
failed experiment by comparison.
Sibelius Performed with Joy and Conviction
The main work of the
evening, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, was given a wonderful performance. It is
curious how this composer’s reputation has ebbed and flowed. In his lifetime he
was a veritable colossus, recognized almost universally as the greatest living
symphonist. Then, in the latter part of the Twentieth Century his reputation
faded and his music was consigned to the fringes of the repertoire.
I must confess that I
have always been an ardent Sibelian. There are elements of Tchaikovsky in his
early works, but on the whole, Sibelius was unique in his expression and in his
compositional techniques. The Second Symphony is a case in point; the “vamping”
in the strings at the beginning is fresh and unexpected, and the way Sibelius
weaves the various motives of the movement into the recapitulation is inspired.
Consider, as well, the lovely little cello solo in the Trio of the Scherzo. The
joining of the Scherzo to the Finale is Beethovenian in its grandeur and the
cumulative effect of the ostinato building to a magnificent peroration is still
a wonder to the ears. Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony put this all this
together with joy and conviction. The brass was heroic and the strings soared. Douglas Harvey (photo: right) was exemplary in his cello solo.
For lovers of
Ginastera’s music, an important addition to his discography has just been released.
The Pierian Recording Society (Pierian 0048) has given us two first recordings
of major Ginastera compositions: the Concierto “Argentino” and the original
version of the Piano Concerto No. 2. The soloist in both works is Barbara
Nissman, with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, conducted by
Kenneth Kiesler. This CD also contains Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1. All
the performances are authoritative; Barbara Nissman has long been associated
with the music of Ginastera and is the dedicatee of his final work, the Sonata
Labels: ASO, Concert_Review, Ginastera, Jean Sibelius, klassinen musiikki, klassische Musik, musica classica, musique classique, Peter Bay, Yolanda Kondonassis