Simone Young and Hilary Hahn (Sydney Symphony Orchestra)
Simone Young began her second series of concerts as conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with the premiere of Cathy Milliken’s Fifty Fanfares project sky cataloga poem-like piece with a richly textured tone inspired by various celestial landscapes and their liberating emotional effect.
Hilary Hahn was technically flawless in Prokofiev’s first violin concerto, composed in 1917 at the time of the Classic Symphony. Hahn has brought out the bliss of this kaleidoscopic work with infinite finesse and imagination: sly humour, often tender, charming lyricism. It’s more Prokofiev in mind games fashion that enfant terrible temper tantrum, but there are still many passages of incisive virtuosity, what one commentator has described as “the grain in the oyster of Prokofiev”. The contribution of the SSOs is just as fine: at the end of the first movement, they produce a shimmering effect like “shot” silk. In the second movement, it is interesting to note that when Maxim Vengerov in his 1995 recording follows Prokofiev’s instruction to play the passage on the bridge with all forza, so that the height is sometimes threatened, Hahn avoided the tonal precipice. The perilous passages with double stop are expedited without ever appearing superficial. At the end of the first movement, an over-enthusiastic spectator spontaneously shouted “Brilliant,” prompting a burst of laughter from the audience and a graceful bow from the soloist.
With last week’s powerful rendition of Mahler Resurrection Symphony still ringing in my ears, this interpretation of Tchaikovsky Pathetic Symphony made me think about the effect it may have had on Mahler’s work, coming as it did a few years later. While Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto was a first flowering of his precocious genius, the Pathetic The symphony turned out to be Tchaikovsky’s last will and musical testament. Without wanting to dwell on the parallels, Mahler and Tchaikovsky composed symphonies in which there is a struggle between the forces of life and death. In the Resurrection, life clearly wins. In the, Pathetic it is just as clearly the opposite. I wondered if the radical construction of the Pathetic’s the expansive first movement, followed by a lame ‘waltz’ in 5/4 beats could have been inspired by Mahler’s worldview as much as the sprawling first movement, manic scherzo/march and finale adagio.
From the start, the entire SSO was impressive, from the strings and woodwinds dialogue and the eerie beat to the post “flash” allegro, where the orchestra sounded like sprinters springing from the starting blocks. The clarinet solo in the coda of the first movement was exquisite. Simone Young adopted healthy tempos, eschewing the hysteria of Bernstein (whose tempos in her last recording throughout the rest of the symphony push consistency to the limit, resulting in an extended running time of 59 minutes!) or Mravinsky , but radiating that unique sense of a Slav longing for happier times. I would have preferred a bit more melancholy in the waltz, but the eerie, insistent chug in the middle section of the trio was captured perfectly. The scherzo/march has always symbolized for me the sordid whirlwind of life which ends in a kind of false triumph, which is surely the genesis of Shostakovich’s “forced rejoicing”. Again, Young’s tempos were remarkably lively without resorting to manic extremes. In the finale, the orchestra poured out the majesty and dignity of death with the closing chords resembling the breath escaping from a dying body.
Simone Young and Hilary Hahn perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on July 30.