she’s a Philadelphian, too: Chang.
Performing Arts Center, Aug. 18
If Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 belonged to
Sarah Chang during this concert, then Brahms’ Symphony
No. 2 was Peter Oundjian’s. One of four conductors brought
in after music director Charles Dutoit’s Aug. 12 farewell,
Oundjian was first violinist of the Tokyo Quartet for many
years, and is currently music director of the Toronto Symphony,
with which (among many other notable achievements) he led
the premiere of his cousin Eric Idle’s oratorio Not the
He clearly understood the architecture of Brahms’ symphony.
It’s sprawling, slow-moving and about as cheerful as Brahms
ever gets. So detailed is the first-movement construction
that it seems to imprison you in the development section.
What makes it make sense is a clarity of instrumentation and
There’s a D-major theme near the beginning introduced by the
violins that goes into a descending-note section even as the
horn counters that by going up, just as the flute comes in
to echo the violin theme. More echoes occur, bringing in more
winds and strings, and it’s this kind of passagework that
needs transparency. And that’s what Oundjian provided.
If the third movement seemed somewhat slow, there was compensation
in the well-realized pulse. And this performance was a reminder
that the more lively fourth movement anticipates Mahler’s
first symphony, still a decade away, with the sweep of its
melodies and skillful use of the brass.
Before the Brahms was Shostakovich, which is like serving
a big spicy appetizer before a dinner of steak and potatoes.
Shostakovich’s music is his biography, and this work had a
lengthy gestation because the composer was officially condemned
as a “formalist” shortly after he finished the piece in 1948,
and waited seven years, revising it all the while, before
allowing David Oistrakh to give its premiere.
Not surprisingly, it throbs with ambiguity. Pain gives way
to sardonic laughter; a seemingly gentle passacaglia quotes
warlike themes by Beethoven and Shostakovich himself. The
four movement work alternates slow and fast movements, and
those fast movements are technically brutal. The concerto
calls for a virtuoso soloist, and Sarah Chang, herself a Philadelphian,
enjoyed yet another triumph with this orchestra.
When she recorded the piece four years ago, she called it
her favorite, and this affection is obvious in her gutsy approach.
Where it’s lyrical, she found lyricism, but never overplayed
it; when she had to dig in and get dirty, she showed no reserve.
Her sound in the big cadenza that connects the last two movements
was superb, and her work with Oundjian and the orchestra was
nuanced and effective.
The concert opened with a sprightly reading of Mozart’s Magic
Flute Overture, calming a restive crowd, but concert going
is getting more like airplane travel. The capper at this one
was a dimwit down the row from me who spent the Brahms symphony
feeding herself from a crinkly snack bag, then checking to
see if anyone realized she was the source of the noise. She
looked enough like comedian Andrea Martin to make me think
it was a put-on; afraid not.