Tuesday, February 24, 2009

RSO Plays Beethoven: It's Okay to Feel Good

The People's Snob likes Beethoven, unlike other snobs who say they've outgrown him and his B bookends, Bach and Brahms.

The Snob especially appreciates Beethoven's music when it's programmed thoughtfully, as RSO candidate #5 Arthur Post did this past weekend, placing the First Symphony at the start of a program that moved on to Boccherini's cello concerto (Neal Cary soloing) and finished with Shostakovich's First Symphony. (The Snob can't stand it when Beethoven's music is over-dramatized in order to conclude a concert.)

Beethoven's First Symphony is reasonable, pretty, clever but not overbearingly witty; it's got tunes that can be hummed and tempos that can be tapped. In short, it's deservedly popular. At Saturday's performance, the slow second movement was the standout. The others galloped a little too much for me, and even with only 2 horns and 2 trumpets, the brass section was at times out of balance and flat, as in "blaat"--non-sparkling--not as in out-of-tune.

Likewise, the slow second movement of the Boccherini was my favorite. Neal Cary opened up his vibrato more than in the first movement... and it's just beautiful music anyway. Then, like all the extra cellists in the audience (see previous post), I had to hold my mouth shut so I wouldn't sing along with the third movement: it's the kind of giddy melody that lets even hardened snobs feel good about feeling good.

Listening to the Shostakovich symphony was like watching a building being constructed, and torn down, again and again, slightly differently each time. It's a monumental piece with many themes and voices. The performance was well-done, and like the Beethoven, not over-dramatized. Yes, it's a dramatic piece, and it ends loudly, but it deserves to. In its own way, it is just as reasonable as the Beethoven.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cello to the Nth Power

You'd think it wouldn't be so hard to count cellists--they sit to play, after all. But even from my front-row balcony seat, I kept losing track around 48. So I can't say for sure, but I think I attended a concert of 59 cellists Saturday.

It was a free, informal concert capping a day of workshops led by Julliard teacher and cellist Bonnie Hampton. The participants ranged in age from about 8 to 80, and were of all skill levels. They performed several short pieces arranged for four-part cello orchestra.

The "wow" factor was undeniable. My 12-year-old was very impressed, and I think my 5-year-old would've been too, had she not been more interested in trying to silently eat the bag of chips she'd smuggled in. (She turned a petulant ear to stage after I confiscated the snack.) It's too bad the audience numbered less than half of those on stage, because it was the kind of event that could impress and intrigue a young person into learning to play an instrument.

In any case, 59 cellos--give or take a few--make a gorgeous sound.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Roby Lakatos at the Modlin Center

Once upon a time, a demon was exorcised from a player piano. It took up residence in Budapest at the seat of a cimbalom, and that is Jeno Lisztes.

Meanwhile, Charlie Daniels visited Hungary and lost his soul to a man with a black leather suit, a red handkerchief, and a violin. That is Roby Lakatos.

The Roby Lakatos Ensemble performed at the Modlin Center Saturday night, a concert almost entirely filled with devilishly fast, Gypsy-inspired music. Besides violin and cimbalom, there was an unfortunately overshadowed second violin, a guitar and a piano, both with several excellent moments of glory, and an underappreciated upright bass.

The Program
The cimbalom is played like a hammered dulcimer, but has a sturdier sound. At times, especially on sustained notes, it almost sounded like a brassy wind instrument. Its best moments were as a solo or in duet with violin or guitar.

Lakatos is an incredible violinist, no doubt about it--maybe a little too incredible. Although the ensemble managed major tempo and rhythmic shifts with ease, they had a hard time cohering melodically and harmonically when Lakatos was tearing up and down the neck of the violin.

This problem didn't bother me so much itself, actually, but it was a symptom of a bigger issue: the program could have used a little more variety. The second piece--"Papa, Can You Hear Me" from the movie "Yentl"--demonstrated that Lakatos could wander down lonely paths in dusk-laden forests, musically speaking, but he never went back there.

Most of the pieces alternated fast sections with slower--or at least calmer, duet-based--sections, but in general, a little more swagger and a little less sizzle would have helped me enjoy the concert more.