Musically, last weekend was a very busy one for me (four concerts in as many days) … I’m just now getting caught up with it all in Eargasms. What a joy it is to report on a classical music scene like Charleston’s, offering a level of richness and variety (AND frequency) that makes it impossible to cover it all!
I’ve already told you (scroll down three posts) a little about the Charleston Symphony’s most recent Masterworks series concert last Saturday at the Gaillard: mainly the fact that its musicians were, in effect, playing for free. But here, let me put the CSO’s fiscal ills behind me long enough to tell you about the evening’s performances.
This was to have been resident conductor Scott Terrell’s sole Masterworks outing this season – but his mother’s serious illness forced his absence. Enter guest conductor Bohuslav Rattay – a native of Prague – who appeared at the eleventh hour to fill in. By coincidence, his Czech heritage matched the music at hand to an uncanny degree.
The opening work – substituting for the scheduled Symphonette No. 2, by Morton Gould – was the bubbly overture to Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. By further coincidence, I caught the College’s perky performance of this greatest of Viennese operettas just a few weeks back – check out my newsprint review.
I picked up on Rattay’s central-European musical roots right away. Prague – his hometown – has been a kind of cultural “sister-city” to Vienna for centuries: what was artistically popular in one town usually became the rage in the other. And remember: it was my one of my life’s greatest blessings to grow up in Vienna (I saw my first Fledermaus there at age 12). I was thus gratified to hear genuine Viennese spirit in Rattay’s vibrant reading – especially the unique, drawn-out lilt that he brought to the central waltz. Most conductors – unless they’ve spent some time in Vienna (or nearby Prague) – never sound quite “right” to me in this music. But Rattay and company took me straight back to my musical home.
Then what should they play next but the only violin concerto by Antonin Dvorak: the most beloved of Czech composers. You don’t hear this one in concert as often as other top-tier composers’ concertos (only the second time for me). It’s a rather sprawling work that doesn’t always hang together particularly well. I tend to hear it as a very pleasant series of vignettes – and it certainly offers plenty of the composer’s hallmark melodic beauty and aching harmonics. Rattay – with this music in his very bones – again got the most out of the score, while serving his soloist well.
This concerto also presents the soloist with ample opportunities for both virtuosity and expression. And we were blessed to hear supreme levels of both from Karen Gomyo: one of Canada most brilliant emerging musical stars. Like last month’s crack Masterworks soloist, Giora Schmidt, she’s a protégé of Juilliard’s late, legendary violin pedagogue Dorothy DeLay – and her training showed. Her big, burnished tone and lush vibrato – on top of stiletto-sharp intonation, sparkling technique and deep feeling – were a joy to the ear and the soul. She made her vintage Stradivarius sing, sigh, sob and scamper.
After halftime, Rattay and company returned to deliver a rousing account of W.A. Mozart’s “Prague”symphony (No. 38), written for his rabid fans in that supremely cultured city – where he was even more popular than in Vienna, his adopted home. It’s one of his fabulous “final five” symphonies that stand as paragons of the pure 19th-Century classical tradition. Rattay – with inspired help from his wonderful players – did his hometown proud, conducting their own Mozart masterpiece with zest and elegant panache in the outer movements, plus pastoral sweetness in the central Andante.
And who should I spy in the back row of the second violin section but Karen Gomyo — now wearing concert black instead of the elegant yellow satin gown she’d just appeared in. She must love orchestral playing (and Mozart) enough to work in the trenches, too.
Hats off to our stalwart CSO musicians (AND staff), who refuse to compromise their lofty standards of excellence, even under their current conditions of financial deprivation.
BTW, let me tell you about a new cultural presence in Charleston: Peter Ingle is a fresh and discerning voice among Chucktown’s artistic watchdogs — check out his deluxe, very worthwhile blog, The Charleston Observer.