Although the program opened with a piece entitled "Landscape" by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991), it seemed as though the "Symphony No. 1" by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) led the listener into an internal, uncharted landscape all its own. The energy that invigorates the works of the great Scandinavian composers exerts an uncanny ability to transport audiences as though they were on a steamer or train touring the vast mountains, forests and fjords of northern Europe.
This weekend brought electrifying performances of a pair of 19th century classics: Max Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1" and Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique." Rounding out the concerts was a bit of old Bach wine in new bottles by Cindy McTee, whose "Double Play" was such a delightful discovery last January.
Parking for Friday morning's all-Tchaikovsky concert by the St. Louis Symphony was an adventure, and not just because of the rain. An unusually large crowd jammed parking lots and the Powell Hall lobby. Blame the late Russian composer; his music never fails to draw a crowd.
This weekend Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony are offering a pair of symphonies which, while originating in vastly different musical and cultural worlds, still have their roots in a love of nature and the sense of renewal that comes with spring.
Franz Schubert died at age 31 and Mozart never made it to 36. So their music will always have the freshness and enthusiasm of youth.
"Music of a Bygone Era"
Back before the advent of recorded sound, when a home music system was the piano in the parlor, the odds were good that said piano would be accompanied by one or more bound volumes of short pieces intended for amateur performance. They might contain anything from bagatelles by Beethoven or humoresques by Dvorak to occasional pieces by lesser composers to arrangements of popular songs.
If you're going to bring in a singer as a last-minute substitute, it's good to have one like tenor Nicholas Phan, who has clearly internalized the music and made it his own. His performance of Britten's song cycle "Les Illuminations" with David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Friday night was—well—luminous. So was Marc-André Dalbavie's ethereally lovely "La Source d'un regard," a 2007 work getting its local premiere. The evening closed with a bold and dramatic Tchaikovsky "Symphony No. 5" which was not to be missed.
The St. Louis Symphony has a long history with Carl Orff's 1936 “scenic cantata" "Carmina Burana," from its first performance back in 1961 with Edouard Van Remoortel on the podium to David Robertson's nicely balanced performance back in May of 2011. There's even a fine 1994 recording with Leonard Slatkin and an all-star lineup of soloists that is apparently still available both in disc form and as an MP3 download from amazon.com.
When pianist Conrad Tao appeared with the SLSO in February of 2013—as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Markus Groh—I described him as a tremendously talented young man at the beginning of what looked like a very promising career. This weekend Mr. Tao (who is still not 20 years old) validated that judgment with a Saint-Saëns "Piano Concerto No. 2" that was a model of power and delicacy.
Although both Jean Sibelius and Dmitry Shostakovich are both products of the early and mid-20th century, many differences separate the two. Sibelius was more oriented towards traditional harmony and melody, whereas Shostakovich tilted at times to the atonality and abruptness that eventually became a tradition of its own by the end of the 20th century, and perhaps a trite one at that.