N.A.O. venerates (terrific) Tchaikovsky Reply

Review by Judith Caldwell
The second concert in the Brott Music Festival was called Terrific Tchaikovsky and terrific it was. Two very different Tchaikovsky compositions were on the program plus a Youth Overture by Airat Ichmouratov, a Russian/Canadian contemporary composer.
The evening began with Tchaikovsky’s mighty Symphony No. 6 in B-minor, the Pathetique. a work in four movements of extreme inner struggle. It begins with a mournful Adagio that instead of becoming livelier as the pace quickens, seems nervous and anxious. Struggle is conveyed by extremes of ranges between soft and loud; the second movement waltz is in 3/5 time and so is hauntingly off kilter all the time.

Law; Lewis; Hiemstra & Green…members of the N.A.O.; post-concert

The march does not become a victory march as in the Fifth Symphony, instead it strikes a note of bitterness that leads to the anguish of the finale. All this doom and gloom sounds like a downer, but in the brilliant hands of Tchaikovsky it becomes a passionate and haunting cry of anguish filled with magnificent music that for all its dolor has become an audience favourite.
This iteration of the National Academy Orchestra has only been playing together a short time and yet they sound remarkably good. The first two movements of Symphony No 6 were conducted by the 2017 Apprentice Conductor, Roï Azoulay A slight lack of cohesion was noted which totally disappeared once Maestro Brott took the podium for the last two movements. More than one audience member had to stifle a shouted ‘Encore’ after the allegro (molto vivace) movement. Overall it was a satisfactory performance of an extremely difficult piece of music.
“Youth Overture” by Ichmouratov followed intermission. It is a contemporary work composed in the Russian tradition and is meant to convey a ‘magical time of life’. It is playful and melodic with interesting percussive effects and times when strings, trumpet and clarinet seem to play a chasing game. It asks a lot of the individual orchestra members and the musicians clearly loved playing it… certainly a work which should be heard more often.
The third work on the program was Tchaikovsky’s wonderful Piano Concerto No 1 in B-flat minor with Ian Parker as soloist. Apparently, it was initially dismissed as ‘worthless’ and ‘unplayable’ and one critic called it ‘forgettable’. It finally debuted in Boston with German Hans von Bulow playing it and the North American audiences have loved it ever since. Every piano student has tried the opening Allegro at some stage, it is rather easy to play and very satisfying, but by page two the work needs a master’s hand and then it becomes much more complicated and difficult. It is a work in three movements which contain wonderful melodies, great drama and a whirlwind finale where ‘the soloist and the orchestra race breathlessly to the finish’. Parker played it brilliantly and he clearly enjoyed the drama and intricacy of the piece. The orchestra kept up with him and seemed to enjoy themselves in the process. After a well deserved standing ovation, Mr. Parker offered a nice piece of Gershwin as an encore.
Overall opinion: – A Terrific concert.

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