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Violin shines at Strathmore

While the National Philharmonic did not open the year 2014 with Strauss waltzes like the Baltimore Symphony, they did the next best thing.  They opened with serenades.

However, while the first two pieces by Mozart were not called serenades, the works were as light hearted as many pieces with that name.  If the opening Symphony #29 had been called a serenade we would not question that title.  The numbering is deceptive – this Symphony #29 is the work of Mozart in his late teens and is full of adolescent enthusiasm. 

Certainly the outer movements bustle along with hardly a care in the world.  The minuet is stately in its dotter rhythms and the slow movement is serious party music.  Conductor Piotr Gajewski and the Philharmonic is its chamber orchestra format played this piece well, although the horns had a few wobbly notes.  However, since the conductor took all of the repeats, the work felt a little long winded at times.

The same cannot be said of the following piece – the Violin Concerto #5 with soloist Nurit Bar-Josef.  Again the numbering of this piece is deceptive.  Even though this is Mozart’s final violin concerto, it is still a work of his late teens.  It is the finale that gets all the attention: a simple and genteel rondo that suddenly gives way to an impassioned Turkish March just before the conclusion.

But there are many other interesting features of the work.  The orchestra opens which what sounds like the main theme, but when the soloist enters, it turns out that opening theme is merely the accompaniment for the violin’s lyrical melody.  The slow movement is surprisingly long and lyrical, and while that fiery Turkish March steals the show, the finale ends as charmingly and gracefully as it opened.

Ms. Bar-Josef gave a lyrical and well thought out performance of this piece,  It was not a flashy performance, although the soloist definitely had the technical prowess for those demanding cadenzas, but a performance where everything fell neatly into place with Classical precision.  The Philharmonic offered fine support throughout and the ending is as serene as one could hope for.

After intermission was a true serenade – the Serenade for Strings by Dvorak.  It is one of the composer’s most popular pieces and it is easy to understand why.  The five movements are short and simple in structure – usually dance forms with an A-B-A format.  Instead of complicated structures, Dvorak gives us one memorable melody after another, in luscious harmony and generally bright major keys.  If a cloud occasionally passes by, as in the second movement waltz, it soon passes away, and while the finale works up a head of steam, the opening melody sails in at the end to bring the work to a fitting close.

Conductor Gajewsky and the strings of the Philharmonic gave a well thought out performance of this musical bon-bon.  While the smaller string forces may have given us a leaner, less lush sound, it also allowed the inner voices of this piece to clearly shine through.

The National Philharmonic continues its season with a Schubert Mass on January 18, Brian Ganz continuing his Chopin Project on February 22, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on May 17 and 18.  For a complete schedule and ticket information, call (301) 493-9283 or go online to www.nationalphilharmonic.org

3 stars 

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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