This concert was indeed a pleasant surprise! I've heard the Athens State Orchestra in the past, but last night, their playing was a revelation! This was a splendid and flawless account of monumental classical works.
The concert took place last Friday, 1st of June, in a packed Athens Concert Hall. The first piece performed was Beethoven's "Coriolan Overture", one of the most famous and popular works of the great German composer. From the first bar, the 38 years-old conductor, Vassilis Christopoulos, established the character of the piece: a robust sound, harsh sonorities, restlessness - all these vital elements were convincingly brought to life.
Then came one of my favorite pieces - Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto, performed by the famous Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros. It's strange, but I really could not hear well the solo part, so to be honest, I cannot say much about his performance. I wonder what the reasons for this subdued sound might be: could it be, for instance, that I am over-exposed, so to speak, to recorded versions of the work, where the piano part is perhaps amplified? Could it be that the orchestra's sound was one scale louder than it should have been? Could it be that the pianist, for some unknown reason, did not project his sound enough? Maybe, all/some of the above? The thing is that I could not hear the piano from where I sat. In any case, from what I could discern, the performance was technically flawless (I know the work virtually by heart), and I did admire the andante meditativo character of the middle section of the 2nd movement. Sgouros played a lovely encore afterwards - Scriabin's etude in C Sharp op.2 no 1. And the infinite sadness that this piece expresses was masterfully shown.
After the break, the Athens State Orchestra and Vassilis Christopoulos played one of the most demanding works of the orchestral repertoire - Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I consider this work to be the most exciting orchestral piece ever written - and the performance was, by all means, of the highest standard. Christopoulos, obviously, has a profound knowledge of the work and a very clear idea of what he wants. But, however clear ideas a conductor might have, however noble his musical intentions may be, he needs an orchestra to respond and bring them alive! And the ASO succeeded in that respect. Supported by its amazing percussionists (I counted 6 of them), the orchestra emerged courageously and fully into the extraordinary "sound effects" of the Rite and presented an utterly convincing performance: the rhythmic element (so vital in this music) was powerfully there, the sound was vibrant and confident. Christopoulos has done a splendid job with the ASO, no doubt about it.
In times such as these Greece has been experiencing lately (and God knows what awaits us in the imminent future), the fact that such wonderful concerts do take place, the fact that such charismatic musicians can still show the world their gift, is of itself a reason to hope...