Los Angeles Music Review: TCHAIKOVSKYFEST (Violin Concerto & Symphony No. 2; Gustavo Dudamel, Alina Pogostkina & Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra)

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by Tony Frankel on February 24, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE SIMÓN BOLÍVAR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: A SONIC BOOM

The 1812 Overture may be well-known for booming cannons, but conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela really pulled out the big guns when delivering Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 last Friday night. After Alina Pogostkina’s different spin on the oft-played Violin Concerto, the Disney Hall audience returned to find an empty stage. One by one, 140 handsomely dressed and attractive musicians between the ages of 18 and 28 filled the playing area to capacity. Some of the sections were doubled (the manuscript calls for 4 horns, but we had 8, etc.), and the strings were beefed up with violins that seemingly stretched into infinity, and a daunting 12 basses and 15 cellos.

Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and Gustavo Dudamel

One would assume that with that many musicians on stage, they would not be able to hear each other, yet each section was perfectly and impressively in synch, and even managed to offer personality to the folk-infused symphony (nicknamed the “Little Russian” by music critic and friend of the composer Nikolay Kashkin for Tchaikovsky’s effective use of three Ukrainian folk songs). The woodwinds were especially impressive in their clarity; but all sections triumphed in one way or another: the first violins in perfect conformity; the basses in sensitivity; the horns for their astounding control; the cellos for their subtlety and soul; and the lone timpanist who refused to get swallowed up by his fellow musicians.

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Dudamel abstained from pushing the score; instead, he produced copious amounts of concentrated dynamism, and an essential sense of urgency that sustained the zeal of the plethora of players. There was even potency in the development section of the Symphony’s lightweight Andante marziale (the second movement). Even though the third movement slammed to life, it was the aggressive treatment that the finale received which had the audience positively enraptured. Indeed, after the orchestra’s third bow, Dudamel opted for modesty and waved off his players, even as patrons continued to holler at a fever pitch.

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Born of two professional violinists in St. Petersburg, Alina Pogostkina moved to Germany in 1992, receiving her first violin lessons from her father. Now at the age of 30, Pogostkina clearly sees her preconditioned technique as a tool to achieve a higher aim: the development of her own style. Dressed in a sparkly, soft-orchid-colored gown that draped the floor around her, the gorgeous violinist offered little in the way of the showy fireworks displayed by her predecessors, but she opened the program with a fascinating interpretation all her own. In the countless times I have heard Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (1878), never have I heard an interpretation like hers.

While she sped up phrases normally taken slower—and vice versa—Pogostkina was in no rush whatsoever, stretching the concerto longer than its normal 35-minute running time. This isn’t due to an inability to be ferocious; she simply chose a more sensitive rendition, a lyrical interpretation no less valid than the fiery gypsy spirit of Perlman or Zuckerman. I prefer more soulful renditions, but the avoidance of ostentatious technical showmanship brought out the attractiveness of passages which normally whiz by on their way to the indomitable theme.

During the Andante, Pogostkina practically teased with super-slow cadenzas that would suddenly burst into rapid-fire bowing, urged on by Dudamel when the orchestra entered. Excitement ensued as I wondered if she could even keep up with his rapid accelerando; a few times, she fell a hair short, but those moments were fleeting. Then it was back to incredibly long passages savoring the sweet and tender Violinist ALINA POGOSTKINAhigh notes which, when played pianissimo, had the audience rapt; then, abruptly and unexpectedly, it was back to the fire. The much-smaller orchestra proved the virtuosity of individual players, especially the oboe, clarinet, and bassoon.

Pogostkina’s deliberate version may have had some patrons wondering if she was even accomplished enough to tackle those tricky cadenzas at a speedier pace. As if to ensure those in the packed house who were uncertain of her dexterous craftsmanship, her encore of Fritz Kreisler’s five-minute Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice (1910) positively flabbergasted with a display of flair and expertise. As with Paganini, Kreisler (1875–1962) wrote violin solos to show off his individual talent and new technical discoveries. With crackerjack passion, nimble skill, and the full sound of her 1717 Stradivarius Sasserno, Pogostkina nailed both the shadowy first movement and the faster, more expressive second with its showy double stops.

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photos courtesy of LA Phil

TchaikovskyFest
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Alina Pogostkina, violin
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played February 21, 2014
for more TchaikovskyFest events,
call 323.850.2000 or visit www.LAPhil.com

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