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Dvorak and Shostakovich in Bellas Artes

El Palacio de Bellas Artes
02/15/2004 -  
Antonin Dvorak: Carnival Overture, op. 92, Symphony # 6 in D major, op. 60
Dimitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto # 1 in A minor, op.99

Sarah Chang (violin)
Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional
Enrique Arturo Diemecke (conductor)

During this season (winter 2004) the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, will be commemorating the 100 anniversary of Antonín Dvorák's decease (Prague 1904). The Mexican orchestra will be also celebrating 70 years from the first opening of its main venue, the legendary Palacio de Bellas Artes (1934).

Conceived by the Italian architect Adamo Boary and finished by the Mexican Federico Mariscal, Bellas Artes is the main place for the performance and showing of fine arts in Mexico. The complexity of the architecture, art nouveau the outside and art deco the inside, both in a peculiar Mexican style, is a symbol of the richness and variety of Mexico’s culture. The main hall, decorated with Aztec and Mayan symbols of iron and bronze, surrounded by walls of marble of three different colors from three distinct regions of the country, is separated from the stage by a unique Tiffany’s crystal curtain decorated with a blue, pink, green, landscape of the valley, designed by Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl). The ceiling is crowned by a crystal circle of multiple colors created by Géza Maroti, and the entrance of the hall, like an ancient temple’s door, is surrounded by the impressive wall paintings of Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera.

Within this frame of architecture and celebrations, the Sinfónica Nacional in the second concert of the season (February 15, 2004), performed two representative pieces of Dvorak's life, as a great composer: The Carnival Overture and the Sixth Symphony, both works well selected for the occasion by Mr. Diemecke and his staff.

Originally numbered as the First, the Sixth Symphony is a masterpiece of the late romantic style. It was written in seven weeks, as a commission, for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, then conducted by Hans Richter. However, because the unfriendly environment for the Bohemians in the Austria-Hungary empire (1880), the Sixth was premiered, instead of Vienna, in the author's beloved city of Prague (March 25, 1881). Beethoven (Egmont, Symphony #9) and specially Brahms (Symphony #2) were clearly quoted by Dvorak in small fragments (the same tonality, D major, was also used). This intentional evocation of the big romantics was a true homage to their style, and a tribute to the invaluable relation with Brahms, his friend, teacher, benefactor and idol. The Carnival Overture, composed 11 years after the Sixth Symphony (1891) when Dvorak was 50, is one of the pieces from an author’s interesting philosophical triptych. The three creative forces of the universe: nature (Amid Nature), life (Carnival) and love (Othello). The triptych was also premiered in Praga, in April 28, 1892, close from Dvorak's departure from the old world. Few months after the debut, in his first concert at Carnegie Hall, the Carnival was performed as the author’s greeting to the new world and the beginning of a friendship, between him and the whole continent.

The Sinfonica Nacional and Mr. Diemecke did it well, and showed a big, strong Dvorak. Preceded by a short speech by the conductor (of useful didactic purposes) about the importance and background of the works (a tradition inherited from his great predecessor Carlos Chávez), the Carnival was performed with energetic strings and punctual percussions. In the second part of the concerto, the four movements of the Sixth were performed equilibrated, but not without the necessary accent during the "switch on" of the furiant and presto at the third movement. Mr. Diemecke showed, as usual, great power of _expression, a determinant element to light up the last movement, accentuating the happy Czech folk rhythms of the allegro con spirito.

The intermediary between Dvorak’s luminaries, were the night and the wind of the Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, performed by Mrs. Sarah Chang. An important fact about some of the 20th century works, is that usually one or more "authorized" performances (under the author’s - direct or indirect- supervision) were recorded and are available for today generations. This is the case of the Shostakovich Concerto op. 99. It does not matter who or where, each time either of the Shostakovich’s violin concerts are played, a comparison is automatically done with the performances by the author’s beloved dedicatee David Oistrakh (King David). Oistrakh premiered the op. 99 in Leningrad (1955), with the city orchestra conducted by Mravisnky (the author’s contemporary and close friend). A few weeks after the Russian premiere, Oistrakh recorded it with the New York Philharmonic and Dimitri Mitropoulos (Greek Fire) at Carnegie Hall in 1955 (a wonder of the modern times!). Another essential is the recording of Oistrakh with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the same Mravinsky (1957). Today at least ten more recordings are available by other violinists and orchestras, some of them really valuable. But with Oistrakh’s reference it is not easy! Mrs. Chang’s performance last Sunday, was in my opinion, something special. The first time I listened to Mrs. Chang’s violin was in London, during the BBC Proms, more than three years ago. Then she performed a lively, virtuosic Dvorak’s concert. The last weekend, Mrs. Chang played the Shostakovich’s op. 99 not only virtuosic, but profoundly and expressively, specially during the first movement, that the orchestra played in a moderato tempo rather than a nocturne-adagio. The powerful sound of her instrument was quite useful for the allegros, specially because the marbles of Bellas Artes are not good for the acoustics. The Shostakovich’s concerto has been Mrs. Chang’s companion for the last months. She has played it in many different places and with quite different orchestras and conductors (in.e.San Francisco Symphony and New York Philharmonic). In the near future she will play it with the Philharmonia and Los Angeles Philarmonic). Listening to Mrs. Chang, I perceived some sighs around the hall. Then, the violin voice remembered me that the op. 99 was born as a hidden work. Finished in 1948, it had to stay more than six years in Mr. Shostakovich’s case, as a piece of paper, waiting for Stalin’s death and the end of the sinister Soviet Compositors Union’s persecution. In October 29, 1955, the violin spoke, like the last weekend, and told the world about the greatness of its author.

Salvador de la Torre



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