Saturday, January 14, 2012
New York Philharmonic – Zubin Mehta, conductor. January 13, 2012.
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat X104, $70.)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (1887/90; ed. Nowak, 1955) by Bruckner (1824-96).
If you read the Playbill a bit further, you will read under “Work composed” the words “1884-August 10, 1887; revised April 1889-March 1890; correspondence reveals that Bruckner dedicated this symphony to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austra.” Evidently Bruckner’s work endures several characteristics. One is his self-doubt could cause him to revise his work, often extensively; the other is that several of his students modified his music rather extensively, either at his request or on their own initiative (with the composer’s agreement, apparently). To decide what was what probably is a musicologist’s dream, for the average audience member who may listen to any particular work once every few years, it may not matter very much. For the record, the Nowak edition brings us back to the “Bruckner original,” or does it?
That, it turns out, is my critique of the Program Notes for this concert. Long on historical facts, but little on what informed Bruckner when he wrote this, and whether this music broke new grounds. The conductor Hermann Levi, to whom Bruckner sent the first manuscript, was baffled by the symphony. Perhaps our annotator is, also?
Looking over my blog, it turns out this is the fourth Bruckner symphony I heard since I started recording these events in 2005. The ones I heard earlier are the sixth, seventh, and ninth. So for me it is four performances in six or so years. I must say this is the least baffling one, if my recollection of my prior encounters serves correctly.
I always think of Bruckner’s symphonies as being very long, and this is one of the longest at 83 minutes total (both advertised and in actuality). And everyone in the orchestra showed up (I did notice both Cynthia Phelps and Eileen Moon were not there, so it’s a bit of an hyperbole.) The percussion section is relatively small, with only the timpani, the cymbals, and the triangle. There are two harps, though.
There is quite a bit of brouhaha on a recent New York Philharmonic performance where Alan Gilbert halted the performance because of a cell phone alarm. Today the lady in front of us was quite annoyed at the rustle of page-turning by the lady next to me. Thus I wasn’t about to dig out a pen and scribble notes onto a pad. There is no way I can do an analysis of the music, but I did try to remember something about each of the movements.
One would think the first movement (Allegro moderato) will be the longest, as with most symphonies; and one would be wrong. It is not short, at 20 or so minutes, but not particularly long. It contains quite a few themes that are tonal, but there is no development, climax, or any of the traditional progression one may find in a symphonic movement. Most interestingly, the movement ended on an upward flourish that isn’t particularly dramatic. If you didn’t know the second movement is marked “Scherzo. Allegro moderato – Trio. Slow. Scherzo da capo” you wouldn’t have called it a scherzo and trio movement. But the divisions are easy to find, and one can stretch and call the scherzo a scherzo. It is overall a very enjoyable movement. The third movement (Adagio. Solemnly slow, but not dragging) is the longest at around 30 minutes. Even though the tempo is measured, it is the most dramatic movement with the music building up to clear climaxes. It also has some of the wandering elements that so characterize Mahler’s music. Interestingly I have not come across much on how Mahler and Bruckner influenced each other. They were both Austria-born and had a lot of overlapping years. But I digress … The last movement (Finale. Solemn, not fast) sounded to me like a recap of the earlier movements, with new elements thrown into the mix.
Sitting in my seat, not being able to move much (or lacked the courage to do so), it was still a rather quick 80-plus minutes, even though I had to fight the urge to doze off every now and then. Anne’s back was acting up and was a bit uncomfortable. Mehta is in his 80s and didn’t show his age at all. Not only did he conduct without the music, he also did it without the railing at the end of the podium. He moves his body and arms quite a bit, but his feet seem firmly planted.
The applause was quite enthusiastic. I noticed that Mehta shook the hands of the violists (Young and her neighbor) but seemed to ignore Dicterow and Staples. Did I miss it, or were there some ill feelings from Mehta’s tenure as the Orchestra’s music director? Cosmic order was restored when Mehta patted Dicterow on the back at the third curtain call.
The New York Times review is very positive on the performance, and references some of the problems when Mehta was leading the New York Philharmonic. It also has a good storyline (mountain trekking) for the symphony.
Today was one of the coldest days of this so-far warm winter season. The actual temperature was around freezing, but felt much colder with a stiff breeze that gusts to over 40 mph. We drove in; the several blocks from the parking garage to the restaurant (Eastern Szechuan Garden) wasn’t easy. Good thing we didn’t hit much traffic either way.