Wednesday, January 15, 2014
New York Philharmonic – Alan Gilbert, conductor; Lisa Batiashvili, violin. January 14, 2014.
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. Orchestra (Seat AA11, $44.)
Fidelio Overture, Op. 72 (1814) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99 (1947-48) by Shostakovich (1906-75).
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 (1799-1800) by Beethoven.
An American in Paris (1928) by Gershwin (1898-1937).
This is an interesting program. Three of the pieces are “easy,” popular and enjoyable; the other is seldom programmed, perhaps because it is difficult to pull off.
First on the Beethoven overture. There are multiple versions of the one opera by Beethoven and the overture that accompanies it. The opera Leonore was first premiered in 1805, and was adapted in 1806: both versions were not well-received. The version called Fidelio was introduced in 1814 and was a hit. The overtures that accompanied these different versions are called Leonore No. 1, No. 3, and Fidelio. Making things more interesting is the Fidelio overture is in the key of E major while the Leonores are in C major.
All that may be interesting fodder for musicologists and annotators. For the typical concert-goer, this is just a delightful way to start an evening. Even though this was the last performance in this 4-concert series, the piece sounded fresh, crisp, and – I’m sure – many in the audience were ready to hum along.
Any attempt to do that was quashed a few minutes into Shostakovich’s violin concerto. The concerto started slowly, not that anyone expects the concerto to follow any standard tempo marking. I was struck by how the solo violin worked so well with the large orchestra. While there are some difficult double-stop passages in this Nocturne: Moderato movement, there is none of the fireworks that I have come to associate with Shostakovich’s cello and piano concertos.
Concern that there was going to be no fireworks is dispelled soon into the second movement, Scherzo: Allegro. The piece then moved into a rather structured Passacaglia: Andante movement, followed by a cadenza that was much more challenging to play than it sounded. The violinist has to jump all over the place, her intonation tested by the long double stop and octave passages. She is given some rest at the beginning of the fourth movement (Burlesque: Allegro con brio – Presto) before launching into more of the same. (The Playbill says an eight-measure respite, it felt longer.) The audience burst into applause at the conclusion of the concerto, and Batiashvili came out for several curtain calls.
The Playbill lists some interesting facts about this concerto. It was dedicated to and premiered by David Oistrakh who was blamed by many as the cause of the delay of its publication (in 1956.) Others thought Oistrakh provided considerable advice to Shostakovich and rightfully earned the honor of being the dedicatee. The Playbill also calls Op. 99 (chronologically correct for the publication date) the “universal” identification; but in Wikipedia (at least) the number is 77. The concerto was written during the time Shostakovich was condemned by the official Russian music establishment, but published after Stalin’s death. Since I can’t really tell what patriotic music sounds like, I can’t tell if this piece would have met with official approval. Interestingly, I am not sure the Program Annotator wants to commit, either. One more tidbit: Oistrakh premiered this in the US with the New York Philharmonic.
The Annotator chose not to say a lot about the piece itself. I, on the other hand, am not able to say much beyond a few superficial observations. I do agree with the statement that both the solo and orchestra parts are exciting in their own right. (In going over my blogs, I actually had a bit to say when I heard it performed by Christan Tetzlaff a few years ago; given how I wrote about it, a possibly better performance.) What I find surprising was how – as I remember them – the piano (the one or two I have heard), violin, and cello concertos all have different characteristics. I recall the piano concerto(s?) began with virtuosic passages by the soloist straight away, and the cello concerto had this haunting 4-note theme that was referenced throughout the composition.
I didn’t include this concert as part of this season’s subscription and only reluctantly exchanged another for it because of a recent trip. One of the reasons was Batiashvili never impressed me as a top-tiered soloist. I am glad we went this time. The Playbill says little about Batiashvili. Wikipedia says she plays a Stradivarius on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation, and that she won the Sibelius Competition at age 16 (Playbill says she competed in it.) We may have a modest personality here. She was born in 1979.
Beethoven’s First Symphony, radical for its time, sounded downright calm in contrast. An anchor piece becomes a breather after Shostakovich. It was nice to be able to sit back and enjoy a very pleasant performance by a great orchestra.
The inclusion of An American in Paris in this program puzzles me. While quite familiar with some of the tunes, I had never heard a live performance before. And I didn’t know that this was a tone poem, with a simple program: An American, getting a bit drunk, gets the blues; he eventually sobers up and wanders about Paris, listening to its triumphant street noises. Well, I don’t particularly hear the story in that order, although the elements are all there. The piece started at such a fast tempo that I thought Gilbert wanted to get it over with quickly. It still took close to 20 minutes, much longer than the advertised 17.
A nice conclusion to the evening’s exhilarating ride. The New York Times reviewer expresses about the same sentiments I do, including the remark that the program "doesn't mesh at all." She uses much more refined language, though.