Bernstein, Dvořák, Janáček
A member of the Philadelphia Orchestra assured me that Leonard Bernstein‘s Second Symphony, the “Age of Anxiety,” which I heard for the first time when the Philadelphia Orchestra performed it in Vienna in June, only makes sense after the second time through. That second time came this evening at the Festival, with the London Symphony Orchestra under its new music director Simon Rattle visiting the Great Festival House. Bernstein the composer was still too pretentious for his own good, but at least I understand how the pieces fit together now.
It was not an issue of the orchestra, as the Philadelphians handled every difficult twist and turn in June, just as the Londoners did this evening, it is just that it takes two hearings to have a listener’s ear assemble it sensibly. It’s actually rather fun when it is all put together.
There was one major improvement tonight, however: the piano soloist. Jean-Yves Thibaudet looked frightened out of his wits when he performed with the Philadelphians in June. Tonight, Krystian Zimerman sat at the keyboard cool as can be, and made the extensive solo parts sound effortless. I had a direct view of his hands from my seat, and they just moved up and down the keyboard (including several lines where they crossed each other) as though this was easy.
Zimerman came back out for a solo encore – I’ll guess Chopin, although I’m not 100% sure (not really my thing), but again cool and collected.
After the intermission, Rattle and the orchestra returned with the second set of Slavonic Dances by Antonín Dvořák and the Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček. This orchestra certainly has a lot more lilt and playfullness than Rattle’s previous band in Berlin, and he highlighted all of the color. I can see why it is regarded as the best of the several world-class London-based orchestras – I have not heard it live for a few years (I am more current with the London Philharmonic, sounding better under Vladimir Jurowski than it has since the 1980s, and the Philharmonia), but might agree. Its strings sounded beautiful and adept at crafting the lines, but despite a full-sized contingent strangely thin in contrast with, for example, the Vienna Philharmonic or the Philadelphia Orchestra. So top ten but not top five…. or maybe it will convince me otherwise tomorrow evening.