One of the values of classical music I admire most is the ability to send us messages through the centuries, lessons worth listening to indeed. Beyond the beauty of melodies or the virtuosity of an interpretation, sometimes it happens that great works tell us great stories. Last weekend, the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya started its season with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto played by Julian Rachlin and Beethoven’s Third Symphony. At the same time, there were demonstrations in the streets of Barcelona claiming Catalan independence that finished with police riots. The political ambiance the previous days was quite tense, so the conductor, Kazushi Ono, decided at the last minute to start the concert with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture – a very kind gesture that reminds us that old music has lots of things to teach us.

Julian Rachlin © Janine Guldener
Julian Rachlin
© Janine Guldener

Political issues apart, the absolute protagonist of the night was Jullian Rachlin. He not only delivered a spectacular, thrilling performance of Tchaikovsky’s concerto, but also a deeply emotional one. He made the violin sing, showing a deep comprehension of the initial Allegro moderato, shining at the same time in the ornamental passages. Twenty minutes of intense music-mkaing was led by the soloist, as at some points it seemed that conductor Kazushi Ono had slight difficulties in following Rachlin’s tempi and rubatos.

The second movement was a moment to rest, enjoying the dialogue of strings and brass in the orchestra with the soloist. Suddenly like chamber music, Rachlin and OBC’s players gave a breathtaking moment of calm before the Allegro vivacissimo finale. Scattered with elements of Russian folk, it can be considered among the most impressive concerto movements ever written. Rachlin’s interpretation was outstanding, able to achieve with energy all the technical requirements of the score and to show his exquisite musicality.

The other protagonist of the evening was Beethoven. The Egmont Overture, played in the previously mentioned social and political context, was seen as a reminder that peace and freedom are the most important goals any human being can pursue. The audience applauded this message enthusiastically, probably more than the interpretation itself.

After the interval, Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony was nicely played, showing that the bonds between the musicians and the director are improving. In contrast with previous concerts, in which Ono’s gestures implied a lack of tension and problems with balance between the sections, here in the Eroica we could enjoy quite a good sound. Ono found the way to guide the orchestra in this journey from the musical revolution of the first movement to the explosive sounds of the last one, passing through the solemn Marcia funèbre. In this second movement, Ono’s reading lacking the intrinsic tension that underlies the score. In the third movement Scherzo, there appeared some of the balance problems between brass and strings. In any case, these were minor details which did not darken a good interpretation which made me think Ono is in a good place to obtain excellent results in the season that has just begun.

****1