In his 1996 book on the Vienna Philharmonic, Wiens goldener Klang, author Kurt Dieman-Dichtl describes entering the Großer Saal of the Musikverein for a subscription concert in terms of being one of the chosen, selected to enter heaven. Though my secular soul cannot quite get behind his pious prose, passing into the hall did feel like a respite this Sunday morning, with the Vienna marathon noisily chugging along just a few hundred meters away, and the war in Ukraine a mere few hundred miles. And if in heaven there are indeed harps, then it would be hard to imagine a better angel to recruit than Philharmonic's Anneleen Lenaerts, who performed Reinhold Glière's concerto with her own brothers and sisters in arms, and did so with grace, warmth and brilliance. 

Anneleen Lenaerts, Tugan Sokhiev and the Vienna Philharmonic
© Terry Linke

Glière, born 1875 in Kyiv, wrote his Romantic concerto in collaboration with harpist Ksenia Erdely, who had such a strong hand in shaping it that he offered her co-authorship. She declined, but did premiere the concerto, which also bears her dedication. The three movement work begins in standard sonata-allegro form. The middle movement is a theme and variations, where the harp introduces the theme, which is varied in six different styles, ranging from lush, string-heavy romanticism to dance-like coquettishness. The final movement opens with a childlike, playful opening theme and does not let up its dance-like romp until the final chord. Lenaerts, resplendent in a rich blue gown against her golden instrument, was completely at ease in Glière's idiom, and was called to the stage repeatedly by the audience until she acquiesced, indulging us with a jazzy solo encore, Duke by Bernhard Andrès.

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony opens with the kind of brass fanfare players dream of, and the Philharmonic were in excellent form, led by conductor Tugan Sokhiev and concertmaster Albena Danailova. They captured the uneasiness of the fatalistic waltz that is the rest of the first movement, with its many beautiful themes (one of which always reminds me of Bizet’s “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Carmen) constantly interspersed by nagging little interruptions. It is as if doubt is tugging at the edge of consciousness to let us know to not get too comfortable — nothing so beautiful can last. 

Tugan Sokhiev conducts the Vienna Philharmonic
© Terry Linke

The second movement, bookended by gorgeous double-reed solos, was tuneful in its simple melancholy. The Scherzo, aptly named “pizzicato ostinato” was a study in precise ensemble playing. Sokhiev drew the ensemble back time and again to gorgeous pianississimi and brought out a world of different colors as the various woodwind voices were each given their time to shine, their solos going off – mostly – without a hitch. The finale is a blow-your-hair-back affair, bombastic chords open and then there is a wild charge to the curtain, interrupted by the opening brass motif, which returns near the close, just when we’d almost forgotten its menace. Dancing resumes however, and joy wins out in the end; things may be dark outside, but still we celebrate defiantly.