Friday, January 11, 2013

New York Philharmonic – Christoph Eschenbach, conductor; Pinchas Zukerman, violin. January 9, 2013.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat T103, $72.)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1864-67) by Bruch (1938-1920).
Symphony No. 6 in A major (1879-91; ed. L. Nowak, 1952) by Bruckner (1824-96).

CS and Shirley came by at around 4:30 pm, we went to Jersey City to drop off Shirley and pick up the NY Phil player to get into the city.  There was not a lot of traffic on our way in.  We got there in time to grab a bite at Europan before the concert.

For a mid-week concert, the attendance was quite good.  I am quite sure Zukerman being the soloist had something to do with it.  The piece he played was well known to concerto goers, especially those who have an interest in violin music.  This is a technically challenging piece which Zukerman polished off reasonably well.  He did particularly well with the more difficult passages.  However, his intonation was a bit off during some of the technically easier passages.  Since it can’t possibly be a case of the nerves for the experienced performer, I must attribute to either lack of practice, or his concentration is not as good as it used to be.

In the past I complained about Zukerman’s violin (a Guarnerius, I recall) as not a proper instrument for a performance in a large concert hall against a large orchestra.  It sounded great tonight, which I assume has to do with the seats we had.  Also, Enschenbach struck a good balance between the soloist and the orchestra.  Overall, this was an enjoyable performance.  The 25 or so minute work consists of three movements (i) Prelude: Allegro moderato; (ii) Adagio; and (iii) Finale: Allegro energico.

I have only limited familiarity with Bruckner’s work.  His symphonies are generally quite long, and don’t get played frequently enough even for someone who hits over 40 concerts a year.  One overarching adjective that seems to describe all of them is that they are loud; in tonight’s case, very loud.  Bruckner didn’t have a particular large brass section in this symphony, yet I sometimes felt I needed a set of ear plugs.  We noticed many musicians covering their ears while not playing, and one kept trying to reinstall the ear plugs that kept falling off.

This one-hour long work has four movements: (i) Majestoso; (ii) Adagio: Sehr feirelich (Very solemn); (iii) Scherzo: Nicht schnell (Not fast) – Trio: Langsam (Slow); and (iv) Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (Moving, but not too fast).  I must say Bruckner’s sense of tempo is very different from mine.  One would think movement iii would be quite quiet and relatively slow, but I certainly didn’t find that to be the case.  Were it not for the limited-scherzo nature at the beginning and end of the movement, I would have thought the piece continued to the fourth movement without pause.  The way the tempos are specified reminds one of Mahler; indeed Mahler while not a student of Bruckner actually admired the older composer greatly.  Both of them were from upper Austria, a region I visited several months ago.

There was a time I listened to Bruckner’s ninth symphony enough that I began to appreciate it (it’s been a while since I last heard it, so the appreciation is but a memory).  I wonder if I get to listen to this one more often if that would happen.  While I characterize Mahler’s symphony as wandering on, and finding new vistas, Bruckner’s work seems to be more concentrated around a number of themes, and in that regard more traditional.

On the way back we got a little of “inside baseball” talk about the orchestra.  Also a word about the Program Notes.  It goes into quite a bit of background about the two pieces, but there is not a lot of discussion on the music itself.  I am sure many in the audience could have used some help in trying to grasp the music.

The New York Times review is also on the mixed side, a complaint being the conductor and the orchestra may not have quite jelled.  The reviewer also thought the horns blasted a bit too loudly.

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