Portland Symphony Orchestra
May 3, 2016
by Christopher Hyde
Are there any undiscovered masterpieces? There may be, but if so, they are few and far between. The vast majority of music vanishes after its first performance, if any, and is relegated to the archives, where it languishes until “rediscovered,” only to vanish again.
These unoriginal musings were prompted by the performance at Merrill Auditorium Tuesday night of Erich Korngold’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major (Op. 35) by the Portland Symphony Orchestra under music director Robert Moody,
Korngold is best known as an Oscar-winning composer of movie music, although he began his career as a child prodigy turned composer in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic).
The orchestra gave the work its best effort, and the soloist, Christoph Koncz, knows film music inside and out, having played the hero in “The Red Violin.” Still, through the entire performance, I was picturing scenes from “Schindler’s List.”
Was it merely association of the composer with cinematography? Doesn’t all music conjure up images of some kind?
Not necessarily. (See Beethoven’s Fifth below.) Korngold, however, seems to be playing to the audience and calculating the effect of the scene, rather than letting the music speak for itself. One result is a lack of passion and self-assertiveness in the violin part.. It was beautifully played by Koncz, but its primary characteristic was a kind of wistful sweetness, pleasant enough, but wearing after a while.
I think it was Rilke who cautioned against journalism if one wanted to be a poet. The former rubs off too much on the latter, and the same thing seems to have happened to Korngold.
Tuesday’s program began with Smetana’s “Bartered Bride” Overture, one of my favorite compositions, played a little too fast and without enough attention to its striking effects. It could be that opera and abstract music don’t mix either.
I have purposely left Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for last because nothing in the world remains to be said about it. It is a towering masterpiece that never loses its freshness, even after being played as a theme song on “Judge Judy.” One begins by admiring all the permutations of the “V” for Victory motif and ends in absolute awe and sometimes transfiguration.
As in all of its performances so far of the Beethoven cycle, the orchestra played above itself in every respect, earning a tumultuous standing ovation.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.