Stravinsky, Tomasi, Tschaikowsky

I would not normally describe Tschaikowsky’s Symphony #6 as “rousing,” but tonight’s performance by the Vienna Symphony under Hans Graf was exceptional.  The first movement began with a low, dark grumble which felt like it had emerged slowly from the floorboards of the Musikverein.  This swelled into waves of emotion, which washed from the orchestra over the audience.  By the third movement, the only one which does not end quietly, the musicians had reached a feverish intensity.  Although the Musikverein audiences are usually good about their applause (sometimes tourists have been known to applaud at inappropriate times, but this is rare), the crescendo at the end of this third movement had the audience roaring, with wild applause across the hall.  Indeed, I am not sure if any of the audience members could really contain themselves, the emotions had simply grown that high.  The orchestra, which might be expected to react to such an interruption with annoyance, appeared instead to expect it.  After acknowledging what happened, the orchestra picked up with the final movement.  This gradually faded out, much the way the first movement had begun – returning to a low grumble under the floorboards.  A drained audience gathered its breath, and then the applause resumed long and hard.

This performance made up for the two uninteresting works which had graced the program before the intermission.  The concert had opened with Stravinsky’s rarely performed (for good reason) divertimento “The Fairy’s Kiss.”  A homage to Tschaikowsky, Stravinsky had orchestrated lesser-known music by Tschaikowsky with his own colors, and had then reworked the piece several times over a period of decades.  The only thing worth hearing was how Tschaikowsky’s music translated into Stravinksy’s tonal colors.  But the curiosity value soon faded – there was a good reason the original pieces by Tschaikowsky were themselves rarely performed, and Stravinsky added minimal curiosity but no drama, worth filing away with his other lesser works.  Kudos to the Symphoniker’s woodwinds, though, for some virtuosic playing.

For the second piece on the program, the excellent trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger made one of his frequent guest appearances in Vienna, this time as the soloist for Henri Tomasi’s trumpet concerto (1948).  Sadly, Tomasi would seem to be yet another of a long line of dull French composers with nothing to say.  The music was not unpleasant, and Hardenberger gave it an exceptionally skillful reading, but it simply did not go anywhere.  Worth filing away somewhere with Stravinsky’s Fairy’s Kiss.


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