<< -- 2 -- Lawrence Budmen AN ORIGINAL STATEMENT
Bohorquez could not have had a more musically simpatico collaborator than Hans Graf. (Graf is currently Music Director of the Houston Symphony and has held similar posts with France's Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, Canada's Calgary Philharmonic, and Austria's Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra.) This gifted Austrian conductor was in total command of the New World players. From exquisite, ethereal pianissimos to brilliant full orchestral perorations, he drew a full range of shadings, dynamics, and instrumental coloration from the ensemble. His spacious approach to the introduction of the Dvorák concerto allowed for many orchestral details to emerge that get lost in less thoughtfully conceived performances. The exquisite wind playing in the concerto's second movement blended marvelously with Bohorquez's lyrical phrasing -- all beautifully shaped by Graf.
Graf's interpretation of the Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók (1881-1945) was deeply illuminating. This 1943 score is Bartók's orchestral swan song. (His third Piano Concerto and Viola Concerto were left unfinished at the composer's death. Both were eventually completed by Bartók's pupil Tibor Serly, perhaps the most eloquent conductor and interpreter of his works.) While many conductors play the Concerto for Orchestra as an over the top orchestral showpiece, Graf found the poetry and nostalgia that are the score's elusive subtext. Instead of the usual hard driven orchestral fireworks, Graf emphasized the music's emotional inner core. The opening somber tones of the Introduction had the frightening intensity of a Dies Irae. Graf found the wit and elegance in the second movement 'Games of Couples'. Brightly pungent wind playing riveted attention. The brass chorale (Bartók's modern version of a Bach chorale) soared eloquently as if from some deeper emotional depths. Graf evoked the eerie atmosphere of the central elegy. Those dissonant, quasi-Impressionistic harmonies that are so typical of Bartók's 'night music' movements were sensitively delineated. Graf deftly captured the elegance of the Intermezzo. His soaring evocation of the nostalgic string theme was deeply moving. In the Finale, Graf gave full play to the unbridled vigor of a wild Hungarian dance without bombast. In the contrasting episodes the lovely articulation of the strings was breathtaking! The brilliant conclusion was played with stunning orchestral virtuosity. Graf's performance was exquisitely molded and highly eloquent. He vividly traced Bartók's musical journey from the depths of despair to a reaffirmation of the human spirit! The vigorous, dynamic brass playing was a standout in a stellar ensemble performance!
Graf opened the concert with a robust, folk inflected performance of the Overture to The Bartered Bride by the Czech master Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884). The crisp, vigorous orchestral playing was a joy to hear! With Bohorquez's magisterial version of the Dvorák concerto, this concert offered that musical rarity -- truly perfect chemistry between conductor and orchestra. An evening of great music making!