Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Budapest (and Prague, and Bucharest) with Love

The Thursday and Friday night KSO Masterworks concerts bring orchestral genius from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The centerpiece is the Dvorak Cello Concerto, with cellist Zuill Bailey playing a beautiful Göfriller instrument from the 1690's. The evening opens with Enescu’s vivacious Romanian Rhapsody #1, and the Eastern European tour will end with Bartok’s fascinating Concerto for Orchestra, about as perfect a piece of music as has ever been written.

The Enescu (or Enesco, as he is spelled sometimes) work is a new one for me. I had heard of it for many years; there was one short bit in the excerpt book, but it wasn’t something to slave over like Beethoven 5 or Don Juan. The rhythm and drive remind me of Smetana and Khachaturyan, but this is pure gypsy music. The mood freely alternates between a gently lilting melody and a frenzied Bucharest two-step with the drums fueling the fire and the violins fanning it.

Zuill Bailey is no stranger to the area; he performed the Saint-Säens Cello Concerto with the Chamber Orchestra under George Hanson (during Hanson’s guest visit as a music director candidate in 2002). Some time in the 90's he performed with the Oak Ridge Symphony, perhaps the Elgar? Anyways, that’s all immaterial as he is here now, and his Dvorak Concerto is rich and effortless. This quintessential cello concerto is the last work Dvorak composed in the US, but its heart (like Dvorak’s after three years in America) is thinking of home.

The Bartok has been on my mind ever since I learned of it being programmed. Bartok had an incredible sense of what an orchestra could do, and a big ol’ bag of Hungarian folk songs from which to draw for melodies. Every player is put through his paces and the musical language is accessible. In the Elegia, the clarinets play a lick that can only be described as otherwordly. You will not forget it. Like the Dvorak, this work was composed in the United States, although under very different circumstances. Dvorak was the head of a vital Conservatory in New York in the 1890's, but Bartok had fled the Nazis during WWII and lived in relative obscurity in New York, where he died in 1945.

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