Tuesday, March 06, 2012
New York Philharmonic – David Zinman, conductor; Peter Serkin, piano. March 2, 2012.
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat V 107, $70.)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1801-02) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1928-29, rev. 1949) by Stravinsky (1882-1971).
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1811-12) by Beethoven.
We had heard Zinman a couple of times conducting the New York Philharmonic, according to my previous blogs. For this season he will be conducting a three-week “The Modern Beethoven: A Philharmonic Festival” series. This is the first week, the following week’s program will feature Symphonies Nos. 4 and 8, and the last week will have Nos. 1 and 7. Thus Nos. 5, 6 and 9 will not be heard, which makes me wonder how the selections were made, or why the festival is not extended (by two weeks I guess) to cover them.
The other somewhat puzzling item is the choice of the descriptor “The Modern Beethoven” for these concerts. As far as I could tell, this performance was a “regular” rendition of the symphonies, and the only thing modern about it would be that an orchestra would play them today differently from how they would be played during Beethoven’s time. A different point would be Beethoven was modern for his time, indeed his music still sounds fresh for today’s audience, even though it is familiar. Lastly, in each of these concerts there is a solo piece from the modern era. Today it is Stravinsky. Next week it is Barber’s Cello Concerto (performed by Alisa Weilerstein) and for the last week Hartman’s Concerto funebre (Gil Shaham.) Not sure how they fit in, other than to show contrast.
The second symphony is one of the less popular Beethoven symphonies, and I last heard it in August 2010 as part of the Mostly Mozart festival. The Program Notes describes how some critics consider Beethoven’s odd-numbered symphonies to be “radical and extroverted” and even-numbered ones to be “conservative and reflective.” Generally this piece fits the description. It was simply enjoyable, familiar or not. The four movements are Adagio molto – Allegro con brio, Larghetto, Scherzo (Allegro), and Allegro molto.
The last time I heard the seventh live was March 2010 in Beijing. I also enjoyed it, even though there was some quibble with the concert hall’s acoustics. With regard to “radical and extrovert,” there certainly are enough elements for the music to fit that description. However, if one listens to the second movement, one would come away concluding that it is “conservative and reflective.” Some time ago I read Beethoven as being a person of contrasts; I think that would be a better descriptor of his music. The movements are Poco sostenuto – Vivace, Allegretto, Presto, and Allegro con brio. I wonder if there is any Beethoven symphony that doesn’t contain a “con brio” movement.
Speaking of the second movement, Zinman took it way too fast for my taste. The recording on my iPod was performed by Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the La Scala Philharmonic, and it lasts 40 minutes. It took Zinman 36 minutes to polish it off (per the Program Notes.) It felt as if all the reduction in time came from the second movement (an exaggeration, of course.)
Even though the orchestra sounded at times a bit confused, it didn’t detract from this being a well-played and enjoyable performance.
The seating arrangement for the Stravinsky at first appeared quite puzzling. We had Michelle Kim sitting in the Concertmaster’s chair (Sheryl Staples was off today), which was not unusual since the principals often excuse themselves when there is a guest soloist. Then I noticed that Glen Dicterow was seated somewhere in the violin section. And there is a double bass right at the front of the stage. I should have studied the Program Notes a bit more: there is a concertino group of solo violin, viola, cello, and bass. Also the violins play as one undivided section.
Stravinsky chose to call this a Capriccio instead of a Piano Concerto for a couple of reasons. One is at 16 minutes it probably is a bit short to be called one. The three movements (Presto, Andante rapsodico, and Allegro capriccioso ma tempo giusto; the third movement being the first one written) are played without pause. The second reason, attributed to Prokofiev, was Stravinsky's fear that there isn’t enough virtuosity in it.
Peter Serkin may beg to differ a bit with the last statement. At a minimum, he needed the music, and as far as I could tell, referred to it quite often. And the music did exhibit a lot of the characteristics described by Stravinsky: “juxtaposition of episodes of various kinds which follow one another.” From where we sat, the piano was overwhelmed sometimes by the orchestra, even though Serkin seemed to be pounding away at it.
Most people would associated the name “Serkin” with the first name “Rudolf,” Peter’s father. Since Rudolf is mentioned in Peter’s biography, one can surmise that there is no worry about the father’s shadow. The biography certainly contains a long list of Peter’s accomplishments and the awards he has garnered. Yet one wonders how they compare; there is no escape from “I am my father’s son.” Her certainly looks quite youthful for his age (mid 60s).
We had already bought tickets to the third concert of this series. We cannot attend the second concert in New York City because we have conflicts on all three days; and they were on sale on Goldstar.com. It turns out the program will be played at NJPAC in Newark this Friday, so we will be going there instead. I remember having Mozart-overload after listening to three of his symphonies at one concert, I wonder how I would feel after three weeks of Beethoven.
This concert started at 2 pm, so we got in early enough to have lunch. To our surprise, Sushi-a-go-go was closed; the owner declared bankruptcy despite the brisk business it always seemed to be doing. So we had a quick bite at Jalapeno’s. Not expensive, but not that great either.
The New York Times review on the performance is very positive, and contains some insight into the (strenuous) connection between Stravinsky and Beethoven.