Maxim Rysanov and the NSO at the National Concert Hall, 16th January 2015.
Billed as ‘Clown & Philosopher’, tonight’s programme is book-ended by two of Richard Strauss’ more distinctive works. From the merry pranks of Til Eulenspiegel, to Strauss’ grandiose meditation on the death of an artist, Tod und Verklarung, this evening sets out the promise of the highs and lows of life, according to Strauss. With concerti from Bartok and Bruch to round out the night’s programme, conductor Alan Buribayev has before him a challenge of style and tone.
First up though is Strauss’ Til Eulenspiegel lustiche Streiche. From the opening, as the strings set the stage for the horn’s first entrance, the orchestra gamely tries to bring the misadventures of the eponymous hero to life; an uncharacteristically restrained Buribayev seeming subdued on his podium. Gradually, though, they begin to do just that – the brass injecting a welcome sense of energy, the clarinet’s ever more vibrant tones cutting across the whole. As the percussion break in and set the funereal scene for the eventual finale, Buribayev seems to come to life himself.
On hand to take the lead on the first of this evening’s two concerti, Maxim Rysanov cuts a confident figure as he takes the stage for Bela Bartok’s Viola Concerto. With a strong tone, his sound is rich and warm – though at times it threatens to overwhelm, a sense of balance is just about maintained. The lyrical second movement benefits from some judicious vibrato, its melancholy tones calling for a more nuanced approach – despite some very slight tuning troubles, Rysanov proves himself as adept with this more measured movement as with the technical display that has gone before.
Bruch’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola in Em sees Rysanov joined at centre-stage by the NSO’s own John Finucane. With no preamble, they launch straight in – the powerful sound of the viola matched in turn by Finucane’s clarinet. As the two trade lines, Buribayev appears to have settled into the evening’s performance, drawing a warm sound from the orchestra to counter-balance the soloists. From the opening fanfare of the final movement, with the brass on fine form, the strings setting a powerful undercurrent, allows the two some final displays of technical prowess.
If the preceding works saw allowed some individuals to shine, the final work of the evening is a masterwork in the power of orchestral writing. Richard Strauss is not a composer known for understatement, and his treatment of the final moments of life is every bit as grand as might be hoped. From the opening horns, hushed, layered and warm, to the first entrance of the gently plucked harp, the scene is set for a work that is as epic as its title suggests; Tod und Verklarung, or Death and Transfiguration.
Buribayev is right at home with this music, ducking and weaving, stretching to his full height as he calls on each section to add their weight to the piece – throughout the work, the ebb and flow of the music filling the hall until the sombre gongs call a halt, setting the stage for the final moments. The slow climb from the low end sees the orchestra find a sound thick and textured. As they move towards Strauss’ ultimate transfiguration, the last moments a welcome fulfilment of the evening’s promise.
Richard Strauss – Til Eulenspiegel lustiche Streiche
Bela Bartok – Viola Concerto
Max Bruch – Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola in Em
Richard Strauss – Tod und Verklarung