Romance and Waltz – Doug Bauman

Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers. I especially like his symphonies, and his first piano concerto is equally a favorite, it is without a doubt a sublimely romantic composition. Therefore I was eminently pleased to experience this concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and pianist Sa Chen. The PSO has invited several new and upcoming soloists this year, and they have all given such wonderful performances.

Sa Chen was simply amazing. She sat before the grand piano, her hands delicately arrayed upon the keyboard, with a glint of anticipation in her eyes. Soon conductor Manfred Honeck began with a sweeping arc of his arms and baton, and the orchestra commenced, bringing the first four descending notes from the English Horns, da dat dat da, leading into the a flourish of similar notes from the whole orchestra, and finally to the full hands and fingers of the pianist thundering their harmonic knell strokes upon the keys three times from the very lowest octaves, to the middle tones, and all the way to the right with the high notes, as the orchestra played one of the most recognizable of all romantic themes in unison.
Then it was time for Sa Chen to play a solo with the aid of some well placed pizzicato, and her fantastic abilities were immediately seen and heard. Throughout the performance she had an amazing capability to effortlessly play the keys, loud or softly as appropriate, and make it look so natural. My recommendation to anyone attending a piano concerto: sit left of center as I did, so that you may see the hands on the keyboard, and where I was I was able to see the reflection as well.
This piece is memorable not only for the momentous introduction to the first movement, and the romantic theme that is prevalent throughout, but for many unforgettable melodies that are fabulously interwoven throughout the whole of the concerto.
If I am not mistaken, and correct me if I am wrong, but many of the solo parts traditionally ascribed to the oboe were this evening marvelously played by a solo piccolo, to marvelous affect. This soloist wasn’t listed on the web page, but she did fantastic, I was impressed (there were actually two piccolo, the other being the principle, Rhian Kenny, who did a great job herself). In fact, Maestro Honeck singled out the piccolo player for applause at the conclusion, after the main applause went to Sa Chen, of course. Sa Chen then went on to play an encore, which was very beautiful. I did not hear the name of the composition; if anyone knows, please comment.
After intermission, the theme was Johann Strauss, Jr.: Music by the Strauss Family. Honeck structured the first part of the Strauss evening as a tribute to the women in Strauss family life, including Josef Strauss: Frauenherz (A Woman’s Heart) and Johann Strauss: Wein, Weib, und Gesang (Wine, Women, and Song). According to Honeck: “I’m not sure what Johann Strauss thought of this song, but he probably thought that wine, woman and song made for a great combination.” All of waltzes and scores played this evening were wonderful, and I’m glad that some of the more obscure pieces were played. Somehow it felt like New Year’s Eve at the conclusion of the evening, especially after two ‘encore’ pieces were played, ending with the Radetzky Marsch by Johann Strauss Sr.

3 Responses to “Romance and Waltz – Doug Bauman”

  1. Doug Bauman says:

    I forgot to mention that I really enjoy the orchestra seating layout that Manfred Honeck has been using, and the first time this season. The cellos were to the left and the violas to the right, both behind the violins. The basses were to the far left, completely opposite where they normally reside. I get the sense that the sound from this arrangement is more balanced, but I’m sure it depends on the composition.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_section
    ” In the 19th century it was standard[3] to have the first and second violins on opposite sides (violin I, cello, viola, violin II), rendering obvious the crossing of their parts in, for example, the opening of the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony.”
    Here’s an interesting set of seating diagrams, the second to last seemed to be the one used this last weekend:
    http://www.mti.dmu.ac.uk/~ahugill/manual/seating.html

  2. Doug Bauman says:

    wrt: the beautiful encore performed by Sa Chen..
    From the PSO Twitter account:
    http://twitter.com/pghsymphony/statuses/6205400177
    ‘Sa Chen performed “Autumn Over the Peaceful Lake” – trying to track down the composer for you! Glad you enjoyed the concert!’
    I found this reference when searching:
    Autumn Moon over a peaceful Lake
    Kompositör: Pei-Xun Chen (Born 1921)
    http://www.ciao.se/Jia_Zhong_Colours_of_China__341043
    And another reference:
    Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake (arr. by Chen Pei-xun for piano)
    http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=179107

  3. Doug Bauman says:

    I read in the Message Board:
    The encores were:
    Johann Strauss Jr.’s Perpetuum mobile, Op. 257
    Josef Strauss’ Feuerfest (Fire Festival) Polka, Op. 269
    Johann Strauss Sr’s . Radetzky-Marsch, Op 228

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Nov 29