When the German drama and Romanticism of Beethoven and Richard Strauss are infused with the Gallic charm of guest conductor Stephane Deneve, combined with the work of young American composer Patrick Harlin, the result is a remarkable audience appeal that not only endeared the composers and performers to listeners, but enhanced their appreciation and understanding.
For the second week in a row, Maestro David Robertson has taken a well-known piece in the standard repertoire, plugged it into a high-voltage socket, and produced a performance that crackles with electricity.
For over 200 years audiences have been captivated by the piano, and with good reason. A skilled performer can transform the instrument into a veritable orchestral palette of color, range, special effects and dynamics. Such was the case with the brilliant Chinese-born pianist Wuna Meng, a 2012 competition winner of the Artist Presentation Society, who performed on March 17 at the Ethical Society.
"Beautiful" isn't a word you often hear applied to the twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, but I can't think of a better one to describe the performance of Alban Berg's 1935 "Violin Concerto" by soloist James Ehnes and the symphony under David Robertson Friday morning.
The score of Elgar’s 1910 "Violin Concerto" carries the Spanish preface, "Aqui está encerrada el alma de ....." ( "Herein is enshrined the soul of ....." ). Is it a secret love letter to the wife of a member of Parliament or even, as Elgar biographer Jerrold Northrup Moore suggests, a tribute to several of the composer’s closest friends? And does it really matter anyway?
Radu Lupu plays a genial and low-key Beethoven 4th piano concerto and David Robertson leads the orchestra in a lush Brahms “Symphony No. 2”, and it all starts with a Gemütlichkeit-filled cruise down the “Beautiful Blue Danube” of Johann Strauss, Jr. It must be another first-class evening with the St. Louis Symphony.
When Gil Shaham stopped to tune his violin after the massive workout that is the first movement of the Beethoven concerto his brother-in-law, maestro David Robertson, turned to the audience and quipped, "it's from 1699; you’d think it would be in tune by now." That one little moment was a distillation of the easy good humor that characterized not only the concerto but the Haydn "Symphony No. 104" and the Strauss "Tales from the Vienna Woods" as well.
Although Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral”, is a purely instrumental work, the weekend of October 12-14 at Powell Hall it assumed a choral sheen under the baton of guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos that seemed to utterly transform the work.
Powell Hall was packed to the last row of the balcony Saturday night for a coruscating Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough (who had just performed the First Concerto the night before) earning a Purple Heart at the keyboard and a driving Beethoven 5th with Peter Oundjian at the podium.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra marked Veteran's Day with a heroic performance by pianist Horacio Gutiérrez and conductor Jun Märkl of Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") -- a work written under the cloud of war and occupation.