Yabuta, Korngold, Bruckner

Tonight’s concert at the Konzerthaus presented three works in reverse chronological order, providing a somewhat nostalgic view of the program.  As part of its celebrations of the 100th anniversary of its construction, the Konzerthaus sponsored composition contests.  Shoichi Yabuta, a 30-year-old Japanese composer won the category for large symphonic work with “Anima,” received his prize before the concert began, and then got to hear the world premiere, with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Cornelius Meister.

Yabuta indicated in the program notes that he tries to blend eastern and western harmonics in his music through a concept called “heterophony.”  I was not clear that I heard any particular harmonics at work in this piece.  However, he used a Bruckner-sized orchestra to its fullest – not only in terms of the massive sound potential, but also in the ability to mix and match instruments, performing in an aggressive and muscular manner, somehow in context with each other. The result: surprisingly good, and enjoyable on an intellectual level.  Yabuta also kept the work at under about 15 minutes, understanding (as so many other modern composers do not) that the creation of so much creative noise becomes grating and unwelcome after a short period.  The piece included three movements, with sharp internal and external edges, so this never became dull and switched up sufficiently to maintain interest among the audience, which gave Yabuta a warm applause after.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto followed.  Korngold wrote this piece in 1945, dedicating it to Alma Mahler.  As a refugee from occupied Vienna living in the US, he had turned to Hollywood and produced film music, back when serious composers did such things.  Taking some of his favorite tunes from various movies, he recombined them into this concerto.  He also indicated that he did not write it for a latter-day “Paganini” to performon the violin, but rather for a “Caruso” – he wanted the violin solos to sing.  Tonight, French violinist Renaud Capuçon followed Korngold’s instructions, giving a softer and more melodic tone to thesomewhat sentimental music.  No hard edges here.

In its way, the single work after the intermission – Anton Bruckner‘s Ninth Symphony – managed to link the two previously-performed works.  While I am not sure Meister offered a new interpretation on its own, the fact that he juxtaposed this symphony with the other two works on the program, and put it after the more modern pieces, did allow for a new consideration of Bruckner’s unfinished final masterpiece.  On one hand, it contained the usual soaring harmonies, a spirituality to match the Korngold concerto’s sentimentality.  On the other hand, Meister had the orchestra muscling its way through much of the new work – and particularly the second movement – and accentuated the organ stops and the drum highlights, thus tying Bruckner’s work to the Yabuta one at the start of the evening.  This was not a relaxed Bruckner Nine.

The orchestra itself sounded somewhat better than when I last heard it earlier this year in the Musikverein.  It has still fallen off from the level it had attained at the time it nearly got closed a couple of years ago, unfortunately.  I would say that perhaps it might know this music better than the works in the previous concert – this would likely apply only to Bruckner, though; the film-music of Korngold at least feels familiar even if it is seldom performed; but the Yabuta was certainly unfamiliar and very difficult.  Meister tried to keep things clear, but the orchestra repeatedly missed cues and did not always have accurate attacks.  Overall, however, it produced a much more open and strident tone than what I heard in the Musikverein eight weeks ago.  Tonight’s odd manner of eliciting nostalgic feelings may also have helped – this is still Vienna after all.

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