Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not very icy...

It may have been chilly outside, but inside Iceland's Harpa (concert hall) it was heated nicely. The Harpa is a stunning building that is understandably a point of major pride for this nation of roughly 330,000 people located in a city of about 120,000 people.  Not having an army, navy or air force sure can help free up enough money to build this monument to the performing arts.  AMC always wonders why a city of 6,000,000 in the southeast US can't muster the resources to build something as grand on Peachtree Street.

Hans Graff was the guest conductor for this performance of the Iceland Symphony, The program began with Respighi's "Three Botticelli Pictures."  Respighi's music seems to be going through a bit of a renaissance of late, at least judging by the increasing frequency it is being heard in the concert hall as well as in online streaming.  His music is pleasant, romantic, with hummable themes, and frequently just this side of movie music (not that there is anything wrong with that.)  The Botticelli's piece fits the mold very well.  The Iceland Symphony performed quite ably.  The second of the pictures features extensive bassoon playing. Hats off to the bassoonist for his fine playing, which only showed some pitchiness at the end of the movement.  The audience showed its love for the music by applauding enthusiastically and without the need for jumping to its collective feet.

Nicola Benedetti was the soloist in the Mozart Violin Concerto 5.  She performed wonderfully with a full rich tone.  She and Graf seemed to have a nice sympatico as each deferred to the other to make this very familiar work sound fresh and exciting.  Ms. Benedetti received multiple curtain calls and she seemed truly delighted with the audience response.  She has a smile that returns the love to the auditorium.  She played a Bach encore that again elicited multiple curtain calls.

The final work was Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler."  In contrast to Respighi, Hindemith is not being revived and it is a loss to classical music lovers.  This three-movement piece is full of orchestral color, dark atmospherics, and flashy percussion.  Maestro Graff and the Iceland Symphony were right on target with this performance.  It was compelling played with great technical skill.

The acoustics in the Harpa auditorium are stunning. There is nice reverberation, but it never smears the sound or muffles its impact.  One of the most notable aspects of the acoustics was its ability to handle very loud passages.  Never did the full-sized orchestra ever sound ear-splitting.  Every part of the orchestra could be heard clearly, yet without sounding disjointed.  Ms. Benedetti's violin could always be heard, even when the full orchestra was playing.  The acoustics in this hall are nearly perfect for symphony orchestras.

Congratulations to all who made this such a wonderful concert.  

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