On June 7th 2019, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo presented an intriguing concert entitled « Reminiscences », composed of three early twentieth-century works that look back on earlier periods, each in a different manner. The concert opened with Arnold Schoenberg’s rarely performed symphonic arrangement of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue « St Anne », BWV 552, dating from 1928. Transcribing Bach’s works was a fashionable practice during this period, enthusiastically undertaken by composers such as Max Reger, Ottorino Respighi and Edward Elgar, as well as by conductor Leopold Stokowski. Guest conductor Domingo Hindoyan is to be commended for reviving these transcriptions, which allow modern symphony orchestras to reclaim a baroque repertoire that has been appropriated by period instrument ensembles. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo was resplendent in this virtuosic work of colossal proportions.
The Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra (1931) is one of Stravinsky’s most overtly neoclassical works; even the movement titles (Toccata, Aria, Capriccio) harken back to the eighteenth century. Soloist Vilde Frang gave a vigorous reading of the piece, which requires a delicate balance between technical clarity and enthusiasm. Her calm stage presence belied the intensity of her interpretation; in the orchestral tuttis she was like a spring being wound tighter and tighter, and in the solo entries the stored energy was released in a cascade of accented notes. One of the highlights of the performance was the short duo in the last movement between Frang and concertmistress Liza Kerob, a passage that Stravinsky admitted was inspired by Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043. The grateful audience was rewarded by an encore in the form of Haydn’s Kaiserlied, a hymn that has been arranged by countless violinist composers, including Paganini, Wieniawski and Kreisler. Frang’s mastery of polyphonic playing was impressive; one could have imagined one was listening to a string quartet.
Whereas many of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies point the way toward the future, his Symphony No. 5 (1901/1902) casts a nostalgic glance back to the previous century; even the opening trumpet solo hints at the famous four-note motif from Beethoven’s own fifth symphony. Partisans of extroverted Mahler interpreters such as Bernstein and Abbado would be puzzled by Hindoyan’s somewhat disconnected style, exacerbated by the poor acoustics of the Auditorium Rainier III. (When will the Monaco government realise that their magnificent orchestra deserves a concert hall worthy of its stature?) The concert was nevertheless saved by the passionate engagement of musicians, especially apparent in the symphony’s quieter moments, such as the pizzicato episode in the middle of the scherzo and the opening of the adagietto. The performance showcased the talents many of the ensemble’s superb soloists, including trumpeter Matthias Persson, tympanist Julien Bourgeois, oboist Matthieu Petitjean, harpist Sophia Steckeler and the orchestra’s new principal horn player Andrea Cesari.