“Brahms seems to appeal to those curious folk whose minds are made in bits carelessly joined or not joined at all. Of the two concertos, the one in D minor is distinctly less abominable than the other, but neight contains much genuine music.”
So wrote London critic J.F. Runciman for his publication, the Saturday Review, on Dec. 3, 1898. (This from A Lexicon of Musical Invective, a compilation of rants compiled by Nicolas Slonimsky.)
Genuine music is what the first night of the Toledo Symphony’s Brahms Project was all about, from the opener, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, to the final sonorous chords of Piano Concerto No. 1, performed by Kirill Gerstein, with Stefan Sanderling conducting.
A focused program drawing together music by Brahms and his 19th century cohort Franz Schubert was rich in haunting, hummable melodies set into brilliant orchestrations by these two giants of the Romantic period.
Maestro Sanderling took a measured and respectful approach to the Variations, heightening the impact of the various musical forms, which fully explored the traditional Saint Anthony Chorale through eight distinct styles.
Brahms, Sanderling said during a pre-concert talk, was the first to adapt the theme-and-variations construct for a full orchestra. In this performance, it sounded elegant and complex, yet fully accessible.
Schubert’s Symphony D. 759 in B Minor “Unfinished” certainly is familiar, thanks to its popularity with symphony programmers. And no wonder; audiences love its dark-toned opening theme returning in various voices and styles.
Great clarity and transparency were hallmarks of the performance, which featured fine symphony principals Georg Klaas, Kimberly Loch, Sandra Clark, Gareth Thomas, and Joel Tse.
Sanderling kept the dynamic level muted through both movements, heightening contrasts, then working down to the final submissive conclusion.
For the cynosure of the evening, the once-reviled piano concerto, there was nothing submissive as the symphony emphatically stated major themes in the opening section. Much as a good speech declaims what points will be made before making them, the orchestral intro foretold what Gerstein would deliver in his powerful personal style.
The performance, a partnership between equals, flowed naturally from orchestra to keyboard and back, with a seamless exploration of Brahms’ hymn-like main statement and its further developments through three movements. Gerstein, clearly at ease and appreciative of the orchestra’s excellence, let the music flow with spirit.
This triumphant concert had Perrysburg benefactor Jon Orser’s name all over it.
Not only did Orser supply the Steinway concert grand several years ago, he also supported Gerstein’s appearances in town. What a splendid use of personal resources; what a great boon for this community.
A second program will include Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Piano Concerto No. 2 plus the Schubert at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets at $22-55 are at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.