Concertmaster David McCarroll Shines in Schumann Violin Concerto
By GEORGE B. PAROUS
Manfred Honeck, in fine spirits, conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra through a program that thrilled the audience last night; one that was on a par with the organization’s usual standard of excellence, and a few steps above that. Robert Schumann’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, WoO 23, was played for the first time in the orchestra’s long history, and as thrilling a delivery of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 as could be heard, resounded through Heinz Hall. No orchestra could top the performance of the Beethoven symphony, and the look on Maestro Honeck’s face – along with the mighty ovation – showed that he and all present knew it.
The program opened with another brief, contemporary piece, John Adams’ appropriately titled Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Fanfare for Great Woods). The piece was first heard at the Great Woods Music Festival, in 1986, played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, back in the Michael Tilson Thomas days. The work opens with a steady pounding of woodblocks, followed by trumpets, clarinets, etc., before the whole orchestra is “running the gauntlet through that rhythmic tunnel,” as the composer has stated. Adams composed and titled the work for an outdoor music festival, and while it was played impressively last evening, it’s easy to imagine it makes a greater impact in evocative outdoor venues.
Next was Robert Schumann’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, WoO 23, known to but a few intimates until it was given its world première in Berlin in 1937 – more than eighty years after the composer’s death. Stories as to why it was hidden away; how it was eventually uncovered with the help of a Ouija board vary and make for interesting reading, just not here and now. The concerto is in three movements (In kräftigem, nicht zu schnellem Tempo, D minor/D major; Langsam, B-flat major, and Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell, D major). Many years ago, a biographer mentioned someone’s description of the piece as showing “a certain exhaustion, which attempts to wring out the last resources of spiritual energy,” though “certain individual passages bear witness to the deep feelings of the creative artist.” As played last evening, the work is a thing of beauty, and the orchestra gave an outstanding performance, with concertmaster David McCarroll as the violin soloist.
The gifted man’s playing is often discernable in the various concerts given through the course of the last two seasons, and last evening was a fascinating display of Mr. McCarroll’s individual virtuosity. Through the first movement, composed in sonata form, the second, somewhat of an intermezzo, and the more than lively third, Mr. McCarroll gave a fine display of his virtuosity and skilled ability to make his instrument sing, and he was recalled 5-6 times by a powerfully sincere ovation. It may have been an additional recall that brought him back to satisfy the encore demanders (a ritual which could be dropped with no harm or loss to anyone). He, the conductor and orchestra are to be commended for one of their very best performances. The large bouquet he received McCarroll graciously handed to Anne Martindale Williams, the principal ‘cellist.
Then the (again less than sell-out) audience poured into the lobbies while the intermission gave the orchestra a chance to rest, or whatever it is they do back there. No one could have suspected what they were about to hear when they returned to their seats and the lights dimmed again. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92. People familiar with the four-movement piece were astonished by the rendition Honeck and the PSO delivered. The first movement, Poco sostenuto – Vivace, notable for abrupt changes in modulations and dynamics, with the Vivace taking something of a dance rhythm, the orchestra played magnificently. The same may be said for the approximately eight-minute Allegretto that followed. The third, the Presto – Assai meno presto, solidified the earlier signs that this performance was quite out of the ordinary, even for the PSO. The fourth movement – the Allegro con brio – one of Beethoven’s grandest achievements – has been written about many times before. Last night it swept from the stage like a tonal tsunami, lifting the audience to its feet. I wasn’t alone in feeling I had never heard the symphony before.
The ovation was tremendous. Honeck was recalled several times and he finally silenced the audience by picking up a microphone.
“There will be no encore,” he softly said to the amusement of all. Then he looked at the enormous bouquet in his arms.
“Is it anybody’s birthday?” he asked.
A tiny voice from the upper gallery piped: “It’s mine!”
“But you’re so far,” Honeck said, squinting while he shaded his eyes from the lights. The audience’s laughter turned into a huge “aww” when he told the person to come backstage and collect the bouquet.
This is a truly remarkable program that deserves a capacity crowd. You can read more about it and BUY TICKETS for Sunday’s matinee by visiting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website.