Monterey Symphony, April 24

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By Scott MacClelland

VADYM KHOLODENKO emerged from his dressing room Sunday afternoon in jeans and a t-shirt that proclaimed “Go, Cello” and chatted affably with a few orchestra musicians right after performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto with Max Bragado-Darman and the Monterey Symphony. Or, I should say, right after his solo encore which he began even before all the orchestra members, then standing to applause, reclaimed their seats. It was a charming, sad little keyboard piece attributed to Henry Purcell (1659-1695) that was more likely composed by William Croft (1678-1727).

Kholodenko’s approach to the Beethoven was serious and thoughtful. It downplayed its witty bits—those three opening solo improvisations that lead directly to a full symphonic exposition—and grandiose bravura favored by some. Instead Kholodenko painted a more elegant image, though one that sacrificed none of the concerto’s grand architecture. In the opening movement, and the brief slow movement, he found opportunities to probe the unfolding ideas circumspectly, often drawing the audience in by playing more softly.

The piece is full of innovations. No big solo cadenza follows the recapitulation as you find in Mozart, but rather only a brief solo passage before the orchestra joins in. The final seven-part rondo is better described as a sonata-rondo owing to its “development” material. Of course the greatness of the piece is the unique recycling of sparse original ideas in constantly changing iterations that flow from intimacy to grandeur and back again. As a supreme master of economy Beethoven intimidated generations of composers who followed him.

Both works on this program aspire to heroics. But the most vivid impact of the day was the thundering regional premiere of Paul Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat of 1940, a sensational showcase that, to the surprise of many of the orchestra’s musicians themselves, was a hit with the Carmel audience. Who could have known? In performance, the 34-minute work calls for a very large orchestra—with extra brass and percussion—and despite many quieter passages was very much ‘in your face.’

The big brass section opened the “very lively” first movement with marching fanfares. Textures were often thick with scurrying action in all sections. Yet with clear themes and melodies, and despite dissonances in both harmonies and rhythms, it was fairly easy to track what was going on. This was due to the composer’s mastery of his resources. (He competently played every orchestral instrument himself, except harp.) Moreover, he was the greatest master of his generation to vouchsafe the German classical tradition. The forms perfected by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were in plain sight, and often reached back to JS Bach for imitative counterpoint. Yet only Hindemith could have composed it; it has his distinctive well- thought-out practices everywhere. As if this weren’t a great piece for an audience, Hindemith went one further by flattering the musicians, many of whom got cameo solos.

The second “very slow” movement, lasting twice as long as the first, was the most anguished in expression and featured many of the most intimate moments. Just at its end it rose up to confident optimism. The rollicking third movement, a classical scherzo if not so named, also contains a brief quiet passage in its ‘trio’ section. The marching finale, the most complex of all given its many changes of mood, recalled earlier material, especially the brass fanfares that opened the work. It also contained an extended passage for woodwinds that showed off that section’s abundant talent.

Bravos to Max Bragado-Darman for his vision of the work and a triumphant performance of it. This and the Symphony’s concert in March have attained a noticeably higher level of artistic excellence and intensity.