An exhilarating opener sets the bar high for the QSO 2014 season.
The theatrical heady impact of the QSO’s performance of the “Titan,” Mahler’s first symphonic juggernaut, was intoxicating in last Saturday’s “Musical Superstars.” This could explain why the smiling presence of Simone Young with outstretched, dancing arms made her seem a giant eagle preparing to soar into the sky.
But if Young, a class act, was physically buoyant on the podium, she was in command of the orchestra who willingly followed her every direction. The rapport between the conductor and QSO was palpable. And, a surprise. After all, an orchestra unified in support of a conductor is a phenomenon perched on the miracle side of the ledger.
On the other hand, the legendary soloist and conductor Shlomo Mintz was still as stone and played with his eyes closed for most of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. This obviously works for Mintz because the sound he channeled was beautiful, precise and polished and couldn’t be faulted from the deepest to the highest of notes. The soloing was noble, never gratuitously showy and always alert to the orchestra.
Had the concert hall’s roof caved in, there was such gravitas in Mintz’ brilliant, yet distant delivery, the magnificence of his singing violin would have continued. The QSO contributed grace and serenity in support. For instance, the strings’ pizzicato accompaniment towards the end of the first movement was sublime like a constellation of twinkling stars in an evening sky. Also special were the ensemble’s light- as- feather brushstrokes in the second movement.
Shlomo’s encore steered clear of frothy Piazolla confections. Instead he favoured Ysaye’s “Ballad” from the Six Sonatas, a hardcore, challengin heartbreaker from the land of violin. The execution was a visceral scream to the universe and especially pleased an experienced member of the violin section who silently hammered out the fingering on the neck of his instrument in sync with Mintz.
Mahler’s colossal work is a staple; the QSO has played it numerous times, but never like this, for Simone Young’s penetrating vision sparked a fresh orchestral sound, pioneered new insight and discovery. Apparently, Young, one of the world’s most feted conductors, explains her interpretative ideas in rehearsal; why she directs a phrase a particular way or places an accent on the fifth instead of the fourth note. Perhaps this is why the performance was so gloriously wilful; the instrumental forces sharply focused. The orchestra didn’t so much begin, as catch a wave in the mystery of the spacious opening that floats a single note.
Young’s conducting was impressively detailed, from the impeccable brass calls off stage, to the biting celebration of Mahler’s explosions of vibrant colour. All of the orchestral voices had clarity within a frame of luxurious coherence. And Young’s leadership was inspiring as she dressed this symphonic marvel in brand new clothes.
This exhilarating concert received a well-deserved standing ovation but set a daunting standard for QSO’s forthcoming events. Transylvanian Fantasy (28 March) with Greek conductor Vassilis Christopolous features Karen Gomyo as soloist in Wienawski’s Violin Concerto. April Masterworks (3 April) showcases Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 with Marina Yakhlakova, winner of the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition. Poet Of Guitar (24 May) features Spanish and French repertoire and puts the spotlight on guitarist Karin Schaupp in Rodrigo’s haunting Concerto de Aranjuez.