The Internet comes up with a quote from a Philip Roth novel, The Human Stain: “Then Bronfman appears ... [and plays] at such a pace and with such bravado as to knock my morbidity clear out of the ring.” Clearly Bronfman’s style when playing Saint-Saens on this DVD was par for the course. The extraordinary genius of Saint-Saens himself is hardly represented by this genial piano concerto, however.
After the interval Sanderling conducts the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Being the Berlin Philharmonic, this is also a memorable experience.
Esa-Pekka Salonen takes the lead in another DVD, this time from Medici Arts, where he conducts the youthful UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, a group consisting of players between the ages of 17 and 29. The main work they play is Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, the sonorous work that marks a return to his former style after the attempted modernism of the Symphony No. 4.
Also in the concert is a piece composed by Salonen himself, LA Variations — Salonen was the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 2009. It’s approachable, fun, and even boisterous.
Ever since discovering the violin concertos of Grazyna Bacewicz last month, I’ve been looking for CDs of other “new” composers, that is to say composers new to me. There are plenty of them, needless to say, but their music is rarely arresting on first acquaintance. An exception has proved the 18th-century German composer Johann Gottlieb Graun who became music director at the court of the future King Frederick II of Prussia.
The CD I discovered, and much enjoyed, is entitled Concertos and contains a short symphony (“sinfonia grosso” in those days), two violin concertos, and a concerto for the viola da gamba, all played by the Wiener Akademie under Martin Haselbock. All of them are well worth listening to, and the quality of the recording is in addition exceptionally high.
Especially striking is the viola da gamba concerto. This ancient instrument went out of fashion shortly after Graun’s time (he died in 1771) but Frederick was an enthusiast, and the concerto offered here certainly demonstrates its unique character. The soloist, Vittorio Ghielmi, sounds like a real virtuoso on an instrument whose dark and subdued tones made it more suited to a domestic room than a concert hall.
But it was capable of both passion and technical complexity, and Graun exploits both dimensions to the full. This is altogether an outstanding CD, brilliant in sound and with unexpected novelty of content. It’s not like Bach, nor quite like Vivaldi (though there are echoes). This is, instead, a style and a sound all its own.