Sunday with the GVO

by delarue

Sunday the Greenwich Village Orchestra, led by guest conductor Farkhad Khudyev, put on a characteristically majestic, sweeping, intuitive performance of a couple of concert standards as well as a late addition to the bill that turned out to be the piece de resistance. Khudyev isn’t a flamboyant conductor: he seems to be part of the music, swaying as if lost in it but responding to its nuances with split-second timing, breaking the trance whenever necessary – which happened a lot. Born of Azeri heritage, his affinity for a fellow composer from the Caucasus, Aram Kachaturian, is no secret, so it made sense that the orchestra opened with the Sabre Dance. “The chase scene!” said one onlooker. “Keystone Kops,” remarked another. It was a little of both, and more, but it wasn’t camp either: this was a pinpoint, precise take, a whirling dervish of a spectacle with more than a little sense of unease.

That came to the forefront in Kachaturian’s Violin Concerto, GVO concertmaster Robert Hayden tackling its spiraling swirls and incisive, insistent passages with a raw, bracing tone and a dynamic attack that spanned pretty much the entire spectrum. Anxiety gave way to pure apprehension and then suspensefully lush atmospherics as the piece moved into the morose, dirgelike second movement, punctuated intensely by staccato, stalking bass. Khudyev brought out the tango allusions lurking just beneath the surface (tangos were a big thing throughout much of the eastern bloc at the time this was written), to the brightly anxious minuet that closes it.

The grand finale was Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. Like a beautiful woman, it has a fan base but also an element that loves to hate on it for that same beauty. But it’s not shallow: that beauty is wistful and bittersweet, which has kept it in circulation all these years. Its motifs have percolated throughout Hollywood, and tv, and commercials and NPR themes to the point where everybody knows it, if not always by name. How does an orchestra make this big, beautiful old warhorse fresh without subsuming that central beauty in something the composer didn’t want? Can and should an orchestra attempt anything like that in the first place? To an extent, this ensemble did, with rewarding results. The first movement was billowy and lush as expected: stripped to its essentials (buried deep, deep beneath the swells of the strings), it’s a courtly dance, stately but not regal, Teutonic but not mechanical. Khudyev gave the sweeping, swoony nocturnal second movement extra altitude by bringing it down very, very quietly in places to add an element of contrast: as with the Kachaturian, his attention to detail was striking. The orchestra gave the wounded third movement an arioso grandeur that stopped just thisshort of camp and then let the juxtaposition of triumphant swells and candlelit glimmer speak for itself the rest of the way. Epic, lush and ultimately optimistic, it was a triumph in every sense of the word.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra’s next concert is on May 20 at 3 PM, with guest conductor Yaniv Segal (of the equally eclectic, thrilling Chelsea Symphony) leading a performance of Shosakovich’s Symphony No. 9 followed by the GVO’s own Barbara Yahr conducting Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.