Violinist Vadim Gluzman shines in Bernstein Serenade
By Peter Alexander June 29, 12:30 a.m.
The Colorado Music Festival opened its 2018 season last night (June 28) with a program that had generous supplies of fun, beauty and excitement.
Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger faced the challenge of launching the festival, conducting an unfamiliar orchestra in a hall where he had never performed. It is a testament to him and to the players that he acquitted himself with great success. He is a conductor who exudes a calm confidence and who leads with clarity and restraint.
Lehninger began the concert with John Corigliano’s Promenade Overture, which starts with a near-empty stage. Players and sections enter gradually until the stage is full (or nearly: the tuba player, in a humorous nod to the instrument’s bulk, enters oompahing breathlessly at the very end). Lehninger selected this score the represent the reunion of the orchestra players, who reconvene every summer in Boulder from their main-season jobs all over the country.
Promenade is a great concert and season opener: the percussion riffs, the brass fanfares, the woodwind noodling all give the players a chance to show their virtuosity, and the culminating broad, lyrical theme gives the strings their due as well. It was done with great brilliance and precision, announcing “THIS is an orchestra!” For future seasons, opening with Promenade would make a great Chautauqua tradition.
That bit of fun was followed by the beauty of Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, featuring violinist Vadim Gluzman. Effectively a five-movement concerto for violin with strings, percussion and harp, the Serenade was written in 1954, before West Side Story made Bernstein a popular sensation. The style is mostly conservative mid-century modernist, with hints of Shostakovich, Britten and others of the time, with the jazzy, hip “Lenny” that we expect only showing up in the final movement.
Plato’s Symposiumdepicts a series of discourses on the subject of love. Fittingly, the five contrasting movements of the Serenade are dominated by a lyrical spirit, with the particularly beautiful fourth movement suggesting Bernstein’s expansive love of humanity.
Gluzman was a sheer joy to hear. The lyrical solo that opens the Serenade filled the hall with beautiful sound, even at a piano volume, and the tricky pyrotechnics of the third movement were precise and flawless. The fourth movement was the expressive heart of the performance, and the finale had just the right amount of jazzy spirit.
I particularly enjoyed the way Gluzman interacted with the violin section behind him, frequently turning to face them rather than the audience, sharing the joy of performance with the players. Equally captivating was his interaction with the principal cellist during a joint cadenza. I have heard this piece live before, but never has it made a greater impression.
Lehninger closed the concert with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, one of the most viscerally exciting pieces in the repertoire. This was the first real test for the full orchestra, and with a few reservations they passed handily. This is the CMF orchestra we have heard before, with great individual virtuosity, a full sound, (mostly) impeccable intonation, and a wide range of dynamics and expressive potential. From the very first notes, the brass was bold, full and thrilling. The movement displayed the flexibility of the ensemble, with extensive tempo modifications and well controlled phrasing.
A few entrances were slightly blurred, but only a few, and from where I sat the balance was not ideal. The powerful brass section sometimes overwhelmed other sections, the middle of the texture was a little too thick, and some details were lost in the wash of sound. It may have sounded differently elsewhere in the hall.
In a moment of surprise, Lehninger turned to the audience between the first two movements to apologize that he had not spoken earlier, and to say “Welcome.” What could have been an awkward moment was made charming by his relaxed, affable personality.
The remainder of the symphony was played with great expression, notable flexibility and well marked expressive contours. The finale was taken at a driven tempo, but one that the players managed well. The movement was irresistibly exciting and did what it is supposed to do: Drive the audience to their feet. And so the 2018 CMF is well launched.
Dates, programs and tickets for CMF performances here.