Dvořák: Symphony No. 7 in d
Minor Op. 70
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay
When the still boyish
Gil Shaham comes bounding on stage, violin in hand, with a huge smile on his
face, you know you are in for a special kind of music-making. Shaham, now 43, still
seems the charming prodigy he was when he first came to international attention.
Before playing so much as a note, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. This
is clearly a young man who loves music and can’t wait to share it with everyone
he meets. He shook concertmaster Jessica Mathaes’ hand so long and so hard I
was afraid she might have to claim disability. Maestro Peter Bay also got the
full Shaham treatment - before, during and after the performance. At one point
during the performance, Shaham got so close to the podium, I thought a referee
might have to be summoned to call a penalty for soloist interference.
There are soloists
who take the stage with the measured pace we associate with royalty, and give
the audience the merest nod of the head to acknowledge their applause. Such
self-important folks are seldom seen to crack a smile; for example, Jascha
Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of his era, totally deserved his
nickname, “The Great Stone Face”.
|Soloist Gil Shaham|
Shaham will have none
of that. He knows as well as anyone that “serious music” is a serious business,
and doing justice to Bach, Brahms and Beethoven and all the rest requires
blood, sweat and tears; that said, he clearly subscribes to the notion that even
“serious music” performers, are entertainers. Some – and he appears to fall
into this category - even want to gift the audience with more than superb
Standing Ovation/ Exquisite Bach
On this occasion, Gil
Shaham played the Violin Concerto by Erich Korngold. The piece was written in
1945 for the afore-mentioned Heifetz but it is only in the last ten years or so
that it has become truly popular; today, virtually all the leading soloists
play the piece, with good reason. In addition to good tunes, many of them
recalling scores that Korngold wrote for Hollywood films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and Deception, this concerto also has
moments so funny that one could be forgiven for laughing out loud. It also
supplies a virtuoso violinist with many opportunities to “strut” his stuff.
A recording of the
Korngold Concerto 20 years ago featuring Shaham, Andre Previn and the London
Symphony, remains one of the best readings on record of the piece. Shaham obviously
still loves to play it - only last month he performed it in New York with Mehta
and the Vienna Philharmonic.
On this occasion, Shaham
and his “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius (c.1699) gave us a passionate and
authoritative Korngold Concerto with Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony supplying
fastidious support. Balances were, for the most part, ideal and ensemble
precision was excellent. Three “in-and-out” standing ovations brought Shaham
back for an encore: unaccompanied Bach with beauty of tone, joyous rhythms and
Melodies from Singing Winds
|Antonín Leopold Dvořák|
Dvořák’s Symphony No.
7 also got careful treatment from Maestro Bay. This approach paid dividends in
the many pages of touching lyricism in the symphony. The Austin Symphony winds
took turns making the most of their many opportunities to “sing” Dvořák’s inspired
melodies. The symphony, however, also has moments of raw power and intensity, and
these passages were often underplayed in this performance. A case in point is
the great climax toward the end of the first movement, in which Dvořák builds
the excitement bar by bar into a ferocious fortissimo for the full orchestra. The
key to building the climax here is increasing the tempo at exactly the right
moments. For whatever reason, Maestro Bay appeared to totally ignore Dvořák’s
marking “poco a poco accelerando,” and failed to summon anything close to the
volume that building the climax bar by bar to its shattering conclusion requires.
The same could be
said of the closing bars of the last movement, except that here the conductor
needs to hold back the tempo to fully realize the spirit of Dvořák’s “Molto
The last ten bars of
the symphony have another problem that each conductor must solve for him/herself.
As written, the melody is given to the second violins and doubled by oboes,
clarinets and bassoons. With the rest of the orchestra playing mostly
fortissimo long notes, the melody can scarcely be heard. One solution is to
have the louder instruments – trumpets, trombones and timpani - back off in
volume to let the melody come through; this solution, however, drains most of
the excitement out of these closing bars. Maestro George Szell, an
authoritative interpreter of the music of Dvořák, solved the problem by having
the trumpets play the melody along with second violins, etc. - a very effective
solution, which many conductors have adopted. Maestro Bay chose a middle course - horns
doubling the melody - which worked rather well.
On this occasion, Peter
Bay and the Austin Symphony gave us a Dvořák Seventh that was carefully
prepared, but to my taste, much too polite for the essence of the piece.
While on exclusive
contract with Deutsche Grammophon, Gil Shaham recorded most of the major violin
concertos in the repertoire. Today, nearly everything has changed in the record
business and few artists are under either exclusive or long-term contracts.
Shaham now records
mostly for Canary Classics. His latest release has the unusual title “Music to
Drive Away Loiterers,” a title which refers to the recent discovery that if
classical music is played in subway stations or shopping malls, people don’t
hang around (i.e. “loiter”) and so there is less crime in such places. The CD includes
some of the most beautiful music ever written.
For more about Erich
Korngold visit www.korngold-society.org; this website keeps close track of
performances and recordings of Korngold’s music.
Labels: Austin Symphony, bach, Concert_Review, Gil Shaham, klassinen musiikki, klassische Musik, Korngold, musica classica, musique classique, Peter Bay, 고전 음악, クラシック音楽, 古典音乐, 古典音樂