Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op.83
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.73
Dirigent: Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Soloist: Viktoria Postnikova
What do you get when you put two of Brahms’ cheerier pieces, SSO, an 81-year old conductor (who used to conduct with Rostropovich as soloist) and his 69-year old wife (aka force of nature) at the pianoforte? A veritable combination that transformed the orchestra into an authority of sound, as of yet unmatched thus far into the year (as far as this author has experienced).
Without so much as an overture, the soloist strode out of the wings without much affectation, with her (dare I say) slightly less imposing counterpart. Her presence and appearance belied her age, and I was fooled again by her stiff-looking shoulders (re: the videos below) which hardly affected the sensitivity of her playing. I wasn’t quite sure if she made some mistakes during certain runs but I’m quite certain I could hear that many notes clearly to have had even entertained that suspicion – as far as I was concerned, no notes were minced nor glossed, and the sheer straightforwardness of style must have given Brahms an ironic, but hardly pretentious, sense of amusement.
As for the less important but little things, Rozhdestvensky’s baton audibly tapped his score on quite a few occasions, and conducted in a very clean, squarish manner. It was also quite amusing to see him cue the soloist/his wife without her looking up. Postnikova rounded up the performance with a tender and silkily rubato-ed rendition of Schumann’s Traumerei (during which a clarinettist’s phone, I believe, rang).
I was somewhat ashamed that there was no standing ovation given, as far as I could tell. (not for the phone ringing)
Brahms left the orchestra to its devices, which were possibly running at (or beyond) it’s peak. Having had at most a couple of spots in the concerto during which the soloist was audibly out of ensemble, SSO proceeded to bring the house down with Brahms’ Pastorale (semi-oxymoron intended).
Apart from the impossible viola syncopation and a single raindrop-esque tutti pizzicato, what struck me most were the smiles on the faces of the orchestra. Not the average polite smiles given to an average guest conductor – there sat on the stage of Esplanade Concert Hall, adults who had been playing the “most serious” genre of music for decades, grinning widely like primary school kids. The only deduction I could gather was that the conductor was either pulling funny faces or giving knowing looks, or both, at strategic moments, all without breaking step in pulse. The most ridiculous part of this opinion would also be that it worked phenomenally well, and not intending hyperbole here. The audience must have felt it too, for despite the lack of energy in their legs, the applause threatened to defy the fact that the concert had to come to a close, and along with it, the exeunt of Rozhdestvensky and the SSO.
Gennady Rozhdestvensky with David Oistrakh:
Viktoria Postnikova, from the few clips available on youtube:
Rachmaninov’s 1st Piano Concerto, 3rd movement (embedding disabled)