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If there's one thing Jahja Ling and the San Diego Symphony can do, it's play Brahms. Over the past few seasons we've heard all four of the Brahms symphonies and each time the performance has been nothing short of spectacular.
Before we got to Brahms on Saturday, we passed through Weber and Prokofiev.
Weber was a composer who influenced German music in the direction of Wagner. In fact, early Wagner sounds more like Weber's heir than Beethoven's.
The Overture to Oberon is a popular concert piece although the opera itself is not. The overture has all the quintessential elements of great German music.
It was thoughtful and contemplative but it also had a destination. It had momentum and a purpose. The orchestra's performance could be expressed in the same exact words.
Prokofiev is a composer that always intrigues me. He manages to keep his music lyrical but with a quirky edge to it that I always enjoy.
According to the program notes, that lyricism could be the populist influence of the Soviet Union or it could just be where Prokofiev ended up as a mature composer.
Whatever the case, his Violin Concerto No. 2 was played by a master last weekend. "Masterful" is about the only word to apply to Vadim Repin's solo playing. "Omnipotent" is another word that could apply. However, all powerful isn't a concept we can get our minds around.
If there were an all-powerful violinist it would have to Repin. Prokofiev might be lyrical but that doesn't mean his music is easy. Repin made it look easy.
The second movement was gorgeous. Throughout, Repin's intonation was flawless. His phrasing and dramatic timing was like Laurence Olivier acting Hamlet — masterful.
That Repin didn't get the full standing ovation was more an indictment of Prokofiev than of his playing.
Now we get to Brahms and his Symphony No. 1. Nuvi Mehta, Symphony lecturer, addressed the audience to explain the significance of this symphony in relationship to Beethoven and Wagner.
I often wonder if Brahms deserves to be in line with Bach and Beethoven or is it just that his name also starts with the letter B? After the performance turned in by Maestro Ling and the orchestra, I might just be a believer in Brahms.
The performance was out of this world. However, there is something about the theme of the final movement that makes me scratch my head.
I'm referring to the famous theme that sounds like a domesticated version of the Ode to Joy theme. There is so much rigor in the rest if the symphony that this tune, while catchy, comes off as a little bit trite.
The opening of the symphony is ominous and the conclusion is stormy and exhilarating, but then there is this happy hearth-and-home theme that just seems out of place — but really, what do I know?
Brahms is the creative genius, I'm just a pair of ears trying to keep up.
One thing is certain, the San Diego Symphony is hot. This is a golden era for symphonic music lovers in San Diego.