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Concert Review/ Janine Jansen & Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra & Mariss Jansons

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Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op.47 (1903-1904; rev 1905)
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No.2 in E Minor, Op.27 (1906-1907)

   Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) and Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) are arguably two of the most accomplished prodigies of the Post-Romantic era. Both composers developed a niche that can be traced to their individual musical languages - the former used his music as one of his vehicles to display his infatuations with nature and landscape; while the latter is known for his abrasive use of harmony and novel rhythmic gestures to create melodies that have an endless singing quality. Both composers lived at a time when the music of Brahms and Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky were witnessing a boom. As a result, both Sibelius and Rachmaninoff embodied this heightened Romanticism, where their music could be identified with "a structural ingenuity and a tonal palette of rich and distinctive orchestral colors," according to the New Grove Music Dictionary. These qualities may in part explain why their music remains as loved then as it is by us today.

   As part of their two day performance at the Carnegie Hall, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra led by its Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons arrived from Washington D.C. on Tuesday morning. New Yorkers and fellow attendees coming from neighboring cities came to these performances on Tuesday and Wednesday possibly with a common vision – to experience music-making performed at the highest calibre. A fellow colleague, who teaches music at a nearby institution, claimed he went as far as cancelling all his prior engagements for the evening after reading the stellar accounts on the same performance that took place the previous evening at The Kennedy Center. No doubt he might even have canceled plans the evening after; inevitably, it would be hard to imagine anyone who left Carnegie Hall this very evening without being captivated by a feeling of awe.

   Although Sibelius had committed himself only in writing one single concerto for the solo instrument, his Violin Concerto in D Minor has certainly identified itself as one of the cornerstone repertoires for any professional violinists today. It was Jascha Heifetz, who was largely responsible for “resurrecting” its popularity since the premiere that took place in the early 1900s. Subsequently, it was Chinese violinist Cho-Liang Lin and more recently Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos who championed this work with their revered performances made in the revised (1 cadenza) and original (2 cadenza) versions. Tonight with the Dutch Concertgebow Orchestra, Maestro Jansons had engaged fellow Dutch violinist Janine Jansen to share the podium as soloist. Those familiar with Ms. Jansen’s playing may recognize a signature “sound” from her violin-playing that largely stems from her technical facility and musical adventurism. How did these qualities take flight with Sibelius? What stood out in Ms. Jansen’s interpretation tonight was her reliable tone and silky lyricism, as exemplified in the opening Allegro moderato introduction that transcended onto the heavy-weight cadenza in the middle of this movement. Her expression came naturally, and her unexaggerated articulation between the two themes shone her off comfortably amongst her peers. Ms. Jansen’s commend over the “Barrere” Stradivarius gave her an added tonal quality that sang and melted with the Orchestra’s wholesome intensity and poise. In the lyrical Adagio, which is literally a “lieder ohne worte,” Ms. Jansen demonstrated an unparalleled commitment that flourished like a love duet with the Orchestra. In the Finale, Sibelius had prepared one surprise following another for his soloist to execute; these included double- and triple-stops, wide-spread scale and arpeggio passages, and other devilish delicacies. Here, Ms. Jansen demonstrated a fearless approach and integration in control and sound projection that made her performance both stunning and uplifting to see and hear. The very success of this performance can also be attributed by the delicate accompaniment and rapt attention she received from the Concertgebouw musicians under Maestro Jansons.

   What followed after intermission can certainly be identified as a magnum opus within the orchestral literature. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2, written in 1906-1907, was premiered in this very Carnegie Hall a century ago under the Russian Symphony Society of New York. In the ensuing decades, the Symphony No.2 has established a firm position as one of the signature orchestral works of Rachmaninoff that stands en par with his most famous works written for piano and orchestra. Appropriately, this work has been closely identified between the Concertgebouw and Maestro Jansons throughout their years of partnership, and their performance reflected a kind of growth and mutual trust that are priceless assets to their institution. Two key qualities can be instantly recognized in their seasoned reading of this work – an emotional intensity, but likewise, a blossoming freshness. The first two Largo-Allegro and Allegro molto movements showcased a glowing intensity off different sections of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. For example, the opening Largo featured a solo passagework given by the English horn that paved way to the first theme introduced by the Concertgebouw strings. Here, concertmaster Vesko Eschkenazy offered a solo passage that provoked imagination by means of a wordless poetry. Then, the Allegro molto offered a platform to highlight a blazing homogeneity within the brass players. Here, the horn calls transformed into a mellow clarinet solo. It was perhaps saved until the famous Adagio third movement when this thick body of music allowed everyone to appreciate the Orchestra as a committed single body, like a gateway to a heaven’s song. This heaven’s song was defined no less by a palette of warm colors and clarity of the architectural balance from left to right. It effectively created this feeling of nostalgia that could be attributed to Maestro Jansons’s meticulous involvement with the Orchestra during past rehearsals. The Finale became the instrument for the Orchestra to bring the audience up on their feet. Noting how engaged the audience was, Maestro Jansons signaled the Concertgebouw to return with an encore from Sibelius’s Valse Triste as an emotional resolution.

     What follows this Sibelius is a coda – a coda so great and enormous in size that it will constitute the full programme in the following evening. Stay tuned on for the review.

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

Image by Felix Broede

Homepage: Janine Jansen
Homepage: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Homepage: Carnegie Hall

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