Saturday, April 28, 2012

Almost suffering for the beauty of this music; Gustavo Dudamel Returns to the Digital Concert Hall

"It is such a perfection, such a simplicity, such a beautiful atmosphere," said conductor Gustavo Dudamel about Ma Mère l'Oye by Ravel, the work that opened his concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker transmitted live over the Digital Concert Hall. "Wow! How can I deal with this beauty! Almost...you suffer for the beauty of this music!”

The five movements that comprise Ravel's suite need to come across as a memory of childhood. They need to sound filled with longing for what was once ordinary and domestic. They are always a tall order to open a program because the "excitement of beginning" is the exact opposite of the emotional quality that is required.

Dudamel came to the podium in a very subdued mood and let the music spill naturally, keeping tempos quietly dancing. He connected the second movement to the first with only a breath pause, and though the pauses between other movements were increasinly longer, he maintained a continual sense of energy to unfold without the feel of starting and stopping.

The digital concert hall transmitted the Ravel with too much focus on individual soloists. The highlighting of each solo line with visual solo shot pulled these lines too far from their colorful contexts. In the fourth movement, which portrays the interaction of "beauty and the beast" with a waltz for beauty and the contrabassoon representing the beast, the constant solo shots focused only on "beauty" after the first two entrances of the contrabassoon, and so the interaction between the two was diminished.

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos joined the orchestra as soloist in the Korngold Violin Concerto. Kavakos has a commanding musical presence with razor sharp articulation. He has a wonderful, crazy, Paganini energy--he stands in very relaxed posture, in the complete absence of any showmanship, and lyrical warmness and cerebral technical precision just emanate from him.

I loved the way he voiced the second theme group of the opening movement, the so-called "Juarez complex" of material from Korngold's 1939 film. The line is filled with melodic gaps, and Kavakos edged these gaps to make us clearly aware of what they were missing. The ending gestures of the first movement were fiery from both orchestra and soloist.

The second movement felt like chamber music on an epic scale. It is music of contradiction and too often its surfaces are what attract. This performance dug much deeper into possibilities. The third movement was taken at lightening fast speed and became a jittery jig with a big Hollywood ending. It sounded cool. The work was well received, and Kavakos returned to play the opening movement of the Sonata No. 5 in G major, called "L'Aurore" by Eugène Ysaÿe.

After intermission we heard "Also sprach Zarathustra" by Strauss. The first half of this performance was tightly constructed and the interrelationship of motives was clear and powerfully developed. The extension and development of the Tanzlied lost focus but found its bearings again when the music settled in B major for the Nachtwandlerlied. Dudamel extended the silence after the final unresolved C-naturals that close the work, and he allowed us to contemplate the life out of balance that sounds at the end of this work. There was still music even in this silence.

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