An evening of contrasts
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Violin Concerto n°3, K 216
Anton Bruckner : Symphony n°3 in D minor (version Novak 1889)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Marek Janowski (conductor),
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
For their opening concert of the season, Marek Janowski, Artistic and Musical Director of the Monte-Carlo Orchestra, chose an all-Austrian programme. However, looking more closely at the works performed, one could see a definite French touch in the Violin concerto n°3 composed in 1775 by a Mozart –at 19- still influenced by the “gallant” style of the period. On the other hand, Bruckner’s symphony is gazing intensely at Wagner and, hence, Germanic in its mode of expression. Should we see a European construction behind the choice?
Mozart was indeed an obvious selection, owing to the 250th anniversary of his birth, to be celebrated everywhere in the coming months. His third violin concerto, probably the most beautiful of the five he composed, was given a rather fast tempo by the conductor, however the soloist seemed a bit withdrawn: Lisa Batiashvili, a young artist from the Georgian Republic who is getting more and more attention (and probably more so since she appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic a year ago), has an impeccable style but she lacked the personal engagement or charisma to take the music up to the high spheres of required grace. Only in her 2 long cadenzas, did she show personality: in the Allegro, fire and vigour -although sometimes confusion, allied with tenderness with charm in the Adagio. In any case a promising talent. Janowski must have appreciated teaming with her since they are going on stage together in Lausanne and Geneva, next month.
The concerto leaves us on an ironical and vanishing call of the horns and oboes. The second part of the concert left the irony and the charm behind as the whole array of brass instruments awesomely took over. And if Mozart was sort of lost within the vast Grimaldi Forum auditorium, Bruckner was going to fully benefit from its volume. Nothing could be more different than the music of the Wagnerian devotee from Saint-Florian. Not a music to please ! But one couldn’t stop thinking about his “modernism”. When we consider that the Third symphony was composed before Brahms’ First, we must admit that Bruckner had moved one step forward, practically doing away with the classical structure such as themes-development-coda-etc… while plunging into a study of contrasts: orchestral masses against each other, brass versus strings and woodwinds, piano versus forte, seriousness of chorals versus folksy tunes. Moreover the music jumps back and forth between those contrasting elements, without bridges, without preparation, without consideration for bonding (except, maybe, twice in the extraordinary timpani decrescendo of the first movement). This attention to various contrasts had certainly upset many early listeners. Decades later, Bartok would compose a piece simply called “Contrasts”.
One claims that this symphony, dedicated to Wagner, appears entirely impregnated with references to the Master of Bayreuth. The critic Hanslick jeered “It is a Ninth (i.e. from Beethoven) with a Walkyrie sauce”. No one can deny though, the loftiness of spirit pervasive even during the most pedantic moments. A last comment regarding Wagner –who in fact was flattered by the tribute-, in the 2nd movement one can detect the germinating cell which, years later, will culminate in the Adagio of the 7th Symphony, the steady, slow development mounting to a sublime climax: Brückner had heard that Wagner died.
To a massive symphony a solid conductor, Marek Janowski is made of granite, and he pushes his orchestra through those abrupt changes, an orchestra sometimes in difficulty when confronted with music which is all but familiar or natural.