Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New York Philharmonic - David Robertson, conudctor; Leonidas Kavakos, violin. October 25, 2008.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 2 (Seat E4, $54)

Symphony No. 34 in C major, K. 338 (1780) by Mozart (1756-91).
Violin Concerto No. 2 BB117 (1937-38) by Bartok (1881-1945).
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 (1882-83) by Brahms (1833-97).

We exchanged another concert for this one due to scheduling conflict, and then realized (i) we would be coming back to NYC after yesterday's concert by the National Chorale, and (ii) Kavakos would be playing another relatively modern piece. Anyhow, here we are.

People (well, the New York Times anyway) keep saying how great a programmer Robertson is. Tonight's concert comprised of a piece each from the 18th, 19th and 20th century, so at least we get to listen to music from vastly different periods.

Robertson conducted the Mozart Symphony with great gusto; a bit much for my taste. And I kept asking, how could he possibly make it more exciting for the Bartok and Beethoven pieces. Turns out he couldn't, which isn't necessarily an indictment on how the latter pieces were performed. In any case, I am not familiar with this particular symphony, and it was quite enjoyable. It came in the standard three movements of Allegro vivace; Andante di molto (piu tosto Allegretto); and Finale - Allegro vivace. There is a remark in the Program Notes about how interesting the tempo marking for the second movement was, which I am sure only an annotator would find interesting.

A couple of observations. A reduced orchestra was used for this symphony, and all the first violin players were women. Mozart was known for his love of the viola and supposedly wrote nice double parts for the instrument (in the slow movement). We were up front, on the right side of the audience, and had a good view of the viola section. Still I had to strain to hear the part(s).

I last heard Kavakos play (in 2005) the Violin Concerto by Henri Dutilleux, and had some choice words for the music and the performance. Today's performance was better, or I should say not as bad. I usually enjoy Bartok and violin music. However, this concerto seemed to wander all over the place, I couldn't figure out what Bartok was trying to say, except to demonstrate the ability of the violinist. We were seated at the front, and had a good view of the performer. The sound of his Stradivarius was great, especially in the higher registers (surprisingly weak on the low notes), and Kavakos' technique is impeccable. Unfortunately, when the performance ended I could say only "Oh, it's over." A couple of additional remarks: this time he played the piece from memory, which is quite remarkable; and the pounding the violin took was simply brutal, it had to be retuned after the first movement.

The concerto's three movements are: Allegro non troppo, Andante tranquillo, and Allegro molto, although I am not sure why Bartok bothered with the markings. Also, notice there is no key to the music. There are supposedly quarter tones towards the end of the first movement; I caught the passage (it was written in the program) but not sure I could distinguish a quarter tone from a half tone. Bartok had written an earlier violin concerto but never published it. So there is debate how tonight's concerto should be numbered; again, great fodder for an annotator.

As with the other two pieces, I am not familiar with the third Brahms Symphony. The movements are Allegro con brio; Andante; Poco allegretto; and Allegro - Un poco sostenuto. It is relatively short, and sounded very much like Beethoven. The Program Notes contain enthusiastic words penned by Clara Schumann. I wish I can find the same excitement.

All in all, tonight's was a program that looks interesting on the surface but falls flat in the actual execution. See the New York Times review. They are surprised that the audience wasn't as enthusiastic either.

No comments: