Balakirev, Dvořák, Tschaikowsky

I took in one last concert in Vienna before leaving full-time for Albania.  The Tonkünstler took to the Musikverein stage under Mikhail Jurowski.  Poor Jurowski looks unwell: he’s gained weight, moves slowly, and walks with a cane – he seems to communicate more with his eyes than with his stick motion (which is now limited).

Of course, he looks better than the Israeli pianist Alexander Markovich.  I heard this combination Jurowski-Markovich-Tonkünstler a few years ago, which was so much fun that it got me to go back for more this time.  Markovich is still obese, and continues to play sitting far away from the piano with his arms reaching over his more-than-ample stomach.  But he keeps a wry smile on his face and a light touch on the keyboard, and the joy he takes from playing is contagious.  He and Jurowski communicated well with each other.  They performed the Dvořák piano concerto – which is seldom-performed for a reason.  the work is not bad, but not great either.  Still, I am happy to hear something new, and Dvořák had far more to say than some other people.

The concert had opened with Balakirev’s youthful Overture on Three Russian Themes.  This was quite pleasant, and demonstrated the skill Balakirev would later develop, often under-appreciated in the west, of producing quality and authentic Russian music.  Two of the three themes were later made more famous from settings by Tschaikowsky (in his Fourth Symphony) and Stravinsky (in his Petrushka), but did not lose anything by comparison in Balakirev’s arrangement.

After the intermission, the concert concluded with Tschaikowsky’s Second Symphony.  This has long been my favorite Tschaikowsky symphony, probably because it is the most authentic and least western (western composers did western music better than Tschaikowsky, and some of Tschaikowsky’s best works were the ones in which he did not try to imitate the west).  The orchestra sounded a little ragged for this one, but the reads, strings, and piccolo were generally good.  A red-haired flautist (in my direct line of view behind Jurowski’s shoulder through my binoculars) looked bored out of her wits the whole evening.

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