Double Blast

19 June was no ordinary evening at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall. The concert offered a rather unusual compilation of compositions. Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni was followed by two concertos: Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, then in the second half, Rachmaninoff’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

Published in Al Ahram Weekly

This break with the tradition of presenting a concerto and a symphony to offer two concertos instead is better suited to young talents than renowned artists, but it was not altogether awkward. The Overture to Don Giovanni was not a perfect fit, but skipping that, we enter the world of two great soloists, two young ladies, virtuosi of violin and piano respectively: Nazrin Rachidova (violin) and Magda Emara (piano). They were the stars of the evening and their breathtaking performance is more worthy of attention than any other aspect of the show.

I visited Rashidova’s web site, where I found two films with a lovely toddler playing violin. The short video shows three-years-old Rashidova playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The second shows the same little girl, one year later, in a red skirt, standing on the piano stool, this time accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Sherif Mohie El-Din. She plays a Theme from Paganini’s Le Streghe : a sparkling talent and a great violinist in the making.

Today, Rashidova is in her early 20s and her biography, filled with international tributes, testifies to her incredible dynamism and passion through various activities in the field. Her choice of Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra is courageous. Yet when listening to Rashidova play, we realise that she is ready, technically and emotionally, to face the task.

Brahms composed his violin concerto in the summer of 1878, dedicating it to Joseph Joachim, his friend the virtuoso violinist, who was the first to play it in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, on 1 January, 1879. It is not only one of the best known violin concertos in the history of music but also one of the most demanding works in the violin repertoire. Due to the great technical and interpretational challenge it poses, some critics have described it as “against violin”, with Wieniawski calling it “unplayable”. No doubt the concerto was written for virtuosi. Even if it is not easy for every listener, it does not lack a variety of harmonious and exceptionally melodic passages. Well balanced and slightly reticent emotions are coloured with moments of melancholy, but many orchestral parts impress with the richness and power of their sound.

Rashidova’s interpretation is rather serious but the gravity she gives to the composition — applied especially to the first movement — touches the listener with several sharp contrasts. The double and triple stop chords (two and three notes played simultaneously), abundantly distributed in all three movements, seemed with Rashidova’s bow like an effortless game, while the sound of her trills is crystal clear. Her impeccable technique and perfect intonation emerged through many emotional layers, underlining the power of the first and third movement and testifying to the violinist’s remarkable sensitivity in the second movement — profound lyricism.

Rachidova is a charismatic young violinist. Her musical maturity surpasses her actual age, so much so that I only wonder where her intelligence will take her after a decade or two… We can only wait, looking for new marvels in Rachidova’s repertoire.

The second soloist of the evening was Magda Emara. The pianist is in her 20s yet her biography is full of prizes and accomplishments. Emara performed in many European countries notwithstanding frequent appearances in Egypt. On 19 June she played Rachmaninoff’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 2, which became one of the composer’s greatest successes, due to its perfect texture, richness and highly personal effect connected with the Russian tradition of melodic style. This concerto has placed Rachmaninoff’s name alongside the greatest concerto composers and at the same time it became his personal landmark.

Rachmaninoff’s playing style is much more modern than the music he wrote, as many of his compositions are strongly linked with Russian tradition and the romantic composers, such as Tchaikovsky who has had the biggest impact on Rachmaninoff’s musical career.

The Piano Concerto no. 2 is truly pulse-pounding and when played by Emara it becomes an unforgettable experience. Emara is virtually flawless. As a pianist she has a great presence and when seated in front of the piano, the sound it produces seems to be a continuous and profound dialogue between two living souls: the pianist and the instrument. She feels, understands and translates to the listener the specific climate of the concerto as she fluctuates between the Russian colourings and the high romanticism enclosed within the music score. Her musical story spins so naturally and is so transparent and technically precise, she shapes each word in an extraordinary manner.

Emara stresses all the basic elements of the concerto. He emphasises and shapes all the Russian accents in the first movement, and the poignant lyricism of the second movement. Her pianissimo notes are so light that become suspended in air. The emotional blows of the third movement explode into a huge climax created by Rachmaninoff and Emara together. The sweeping emotional outburst is overwhelming but not aggressive; it is simply a reminder of this composition’s great power.

Nazrin Rachidova and Magda Emara were the shining stars of the evening. Their technical ease and clear musical vision outshone several severe flaws committed by Marcello Mottadelli when conducting the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. Both virtuosi, Rashidova and Emara demonstrated how the soloists’ individualism can become the driving force behind the success of a concert.

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