Mostly Mozart Festival (7): Afkham Finds Myriad Messages in Brahms
Mostly Mozart Festival (7):Brahms, Vadim Repin (violin), Truls Mørk (cello), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, David Afkham (conductor). Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York CIty, 16.8.2013 (DS)
Brahms: Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor (1887);
Symphony No. 2 in D major (1877)
I always wonder, when sitting down to hear an oft-performed mega-star symphony, if it’s just going to end up sounding like every other performance I have ever heard. How can this orchestra or conductor possibly make a dent in the long line of groups who have charged their way through this score? Well, the performance of Brahms’ Second Symphony by the Mostly Mozart festival under the baton of up-and-coming German conductor David Afkham proved me totally wrong. The rendition was fresh, the ensemble was precise and fluid, and the attitude was exuberant—without succumbing to any of the usual maudlin forms of expression that late Teutonic 19th-century pieces can bring out in musicians.
And I found myself hearing new things, thanks to the extremely well-crafted and intelligently thought-out interpretation by this young conductor. Instead of fixating on the usual commonalities with Beethoven’s Pastoral (which is undoubtedly what the Mostly Mozart Festival curators desired, given this year’s Beethoven theme), I found laid out before me a sonic experience that was, without a doubt, created by a Hamburg-born Lutheran settled in Vienna. So what does that sound like? It sounds like someone watching a waltz without the courage to take part. It sounds like a composer who loved Bach’s place at the organ while knowing the opera house could be as spiritually moving. It sounds like someone from the rainy flatlands has suddenly discovered the magic of the mountains. Even if Afkham did not consider these location-driven underpinnings, by delving into the hidden relationships of the score and bringing them forth assuredly, he presented myriad messages planted inside the staff. And I wasn’t the only one who was awed; everyone jumped out of their seats to roar with applause.
The concert also featured Brahms’s Double Concerto, performed by cellist Truls Mørk and violinist Vadim Repin (who released a recording of the piece in 2009). Mørk played with verve, dedication, and a definitive lack of cynicism. Repin, on the other hand, gave a performance lacking focus and carrying with it a hint of bored depression. In his defense, jet lag may have been a factor. And some of the intonation problems could have been due to a violin ill-adjusted to the sudden drop in temperature that evening. But, unfortunately, it sounded as if he had not practiced this demandingly virtuosic piece since their recording sessions. Perhaps the second night afforded a listen that brought forth the possible glories.