Saturday, May 27, 2017

Orquesta Nacional de España

Last night I saw the last orchestra concert of this trip, the Orquesta Nacional de España in the Auditorio Nacional, same venue as last night. Slightly better seat, though, more in the centre section. I have some more photos of the Auditorio. I also found out that the chamber hall seats just under 700 and the symphony hall, just under 2300. Here is the view from the upper level to the second level lobby:

Click to enlarge
That shiny floor is all granite, by the way, as are these stairs leading to the various entrances.

There are fourteen entrances to the hall and that, combined with these staircases enable everyone to easily get in and, more importantly, to get out at intermission for a refreshing cava:

This is the lower lobby at intermission. On that table in the foreground are stacks of brochures promoting next season's concerts. I will get to them later.

One thing about the hall that looks good and I'm sure helps the acoustics is the beautiful wood ceiling:

A few early-arrivers in the orchestra, warming up:

And here they are, all ready to play:

The program was just two pieces, one in each half. The first half was the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Max Bruch and the soloist was Pinchas Zukerman. When I was just discovering classical music, and buying every LP I could afford, back around 1970, one of my very favorite recordings was one by Maestro Zukerman of concertos by Weiniewski and Vieuxtemps and shorter pieces for violin and orchestra by Chausson and others. Since I lost that LP at least twenty years ago, you can tell I liked it a lot! I used to listen to it first thing in the morning. He was in good form last night and it was great to hear him in person.

The conductor scheduled to direct the concert was Vladimir Ashkenazy, another old friend of mine from recordings, but moments before the concert started an announcement was made that he was indisposed and the program would be conducted by David Afkham, the main conductor of the orchestra. In any case, the second half was the Symphony No. 10 by Shostakovich, which was the reason I came to the concert. The only other Shostakovich symphony I have heard in concert was the Symphony No. 7, so I was really looking forward.

Here is the interesting thing, the difference between a really great orchestra, or pianist, or other musician or group of musicians and a pretty good orchestra or pianist, etc. is huge. And this was reinforced for me by these two concerts with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra and the Spanish National Orchestra. The latter, as shown in the concert last night, are pretty good. At the end of the Shostakovich there were many bows and the conductor singled out specific members of the orchestra who had big solo parts for individual bows and there were lots of bravos for particular players. So all was good. Good concert. Not to forget Pinchas Zukerman who did a very fine job with his concerto and also had to come back several times and bow.

But here's the thing: the night before the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra and their soloist Gautier Capuçon each had to do encores--and offhand I can only recall one other occasion when I have seen an entire orchestra do an encore--but last night there were no encores. I wonder if it is partly anticipation: the Frankfurt guys and their soloist just knew they were going to do a heck of a concert and prepared encores accordingly. The Spanish orchestra? They didn't have the same level of confidence.

In truth, I was pretty bored halfway through each half of the program. In the first half I thought it was the fault of the piece, by Bruch, that I wasn't familiar with. But the same thing happened with the Shostakovich. Somewhere in the slow movement I just lost interest. And that's weird as I'm a big Shostakovich fan. So what was the problem? Maybe it was the last-minute change of conductor? Who knows? In order to really compare two different orchestras you not only have to hear them playing the same repertoire, but it should also be under the same conductor. But we never get to make those kind of comparisons. So I am left with the very strong feeling that the Frankfurt orchestra are head and shoulders above the Spanish one. I was literally on the edge of my seat through the whole Stravinsky. But last night...

If I had to say what the problems were I guess it comes down to things like ensemble precision. The Spanish orchestra while excellent individually, just do not seem to have the kind of unity the German one did. Phrases, while tapered off well, lacked dynamic direction. There was a lack of clarity, a kind of muddle, all the time. Bear in mind that I am talking about details, small differences. But they add up and what they add up to is ... boredom.

I think a good envoi today would be one of those pieces that was on that early LP by Pinchas Zukerman. This is the Polonaise in D major by Wieniawski:


Marc Puckett said...

Who knows, yes; 'a lack of clarity, a kind of muddle all the time, details, small differences'-- I expect that your musical expertise sometimes prevents enjoyment: your professional and academic experience equip you to attend to those 'small differences'; for me who lack that experience... well, I might still have found myself bored, but probably not because of the 'mechanics' of the music-making.

You've seen David Afkham twice-- any observations about him, I wonder; while I see now that he conducted the 10th at Chicago last October, don't think I've ever noticed the name until your Bomarzo.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, that's correct, David Afkham was also the musical director of the Bomarzo production, though I don't even recall mentioning his name. He is a fairly young German conductor. I think that the audience as a whole senses the difference between great and pretty good--remember, no encores last night! I might have a better notion of why, but that's it. On the other end, I might have a finer tuned enjoyment of a really great performance because I can hear the details of what is superbly done. Tomorrow should be interesting: The Golden Cockerel of Rimsky-Korsakov, back at the Teatro Real.