French pianist JEAN-YVES THIBAUDET was the evening's soloist as the NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA gave its final performance of this year's concert season.
As so often, the guest artist performed a piece from his own national repertoire: one of the most effective and welcome works of the concerto literature, Ravel's Concerto in G major. I liked this performance. The artist possessed all the personality and instrumental skill necessary for a soloist in this work: he could be elegant when required and was sensitive to its special shades of humour, which run from irony to sarcasm. In the two outer movements, which have a relatively similar character, he reaped the benefit from his ability to reconcile a tautly bubbling giusto rhythmic sense with a light touch; in the performance of the dreamlike veiled Adagio assai, he demonstrated he understands and is capable of communicating this movement's uniquely complex state: the simultaneous presence of feelings and a distancing from them. You don't need me to tell you that the vital ingredient was Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who had flexible wrists, lightning fast fingers and a crystalline tone. The performance was a deserved success, and the audience was rewarded with the encore of the final section of the work.
If we regard this concert as a Last Supper for the season, we can state that the orchestra's general music director, ZOLTÁN KOCSIS took the trouble to present us with a menu card both rich and varied, and sometimes causing surprises with its powerful contrast of tastes. I can illustrate this latter with a single example: it was a strange sensation to listen to the Ravel Piano Concerto immediately after Anton Webern's Passacaglia op. 1. Besides this composition, a further early one movement work was programmed, Stravinsky's incidental piece Fireworks, op. 4. This was written in 1908, the same year as Webern's score. Not only is the year of origin identical, the performance also adhered to a similar logic – Kocsis's conducting each time located some inner tension in certain contradictions. He drew our attention in the Webern to how the composer creates a unique blend in this work, with the discipline of the archaic passacaglia form inherited via Brahms, and the Mahlerian world of sound and gesture. In other words, the aggregation of emotions desiring repression and expression. In the Stravinsky, Kocsis showed us how in this work, the refined French world of colour is paired with the bombastic gestures inherited from German Romanticism, primarily Richard Strauss.
I have left the opening and closing works of this programme to the end. The concert began with the 80 year old György Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony. The performance realised precisely Ligeti's intention with this work: to create a dense, swift motion of orchestral lines, melting into a standing sonic cloud from which individual melodies, rhythmic gestures and accents gained prominence again and again. The finale of the concert was Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony, which with it sprightly tone places it in the minority of compositions in the composer's oeuvre. It truly rewards the musicians, giving numerous solo roles to the individual players. Kocsis seemed to enjoy the joyousness of the neo-classical opening movement with its cockiness pointing to Prokofiev, as well as the surprises of the scintillating scherzo and the airy pace of the finale. If before I stressed the variety and contrasts of this end of the season concert, in conclusion, I would note that only one characteristic unified all the works of this programme: without exception each composition proved suitable for an orchestra that is still developing and stepping out of its own shadow, to show what it can do. In this sense, the concert was not a celebratory feast but an examination, which was passed with flying colours: the musicians of the National Philharmonic Orchestra proved that over the past year, they have made great progress along the path which Zoltán Kocsis has chosen for them. (June 3 – Music Academy. Organised by the National Philharmonic)