Thursday, October 19, 2006

Igor & Amadeus

Last Saturday night I ducked into New York for the Philharmonic — Gil Shaham and David Robertson teaming up for a concert of Stravinsky and Mozart. (Actually a dinner & symphony evening with a gal I met last time I was in NYC; though this isn't going to turn into anything else, even a second date, it was a fine & companionable evening.) Good music, that.

Shaham played Stravinsky's Violin Concerto and one of Mozart's: a concerto on either side of the intermission. You don't see many concerts with this plan, and it's appealing to get to go back for seconds. At the start came Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto, and after came Mozart's 36th Symphony, the "Linz."

Mozart's classicism and Stravinsky's neoclassicism don't actually throw off a lot of sparks together. Mozart's music is full, rich, and blended; Stravinsky’s is acidic and sharp around the edges — a throwback beyond classicism, back to crystalline baroque concertante pieces.

The Linz is your prototypical classical symphony: stately but sensitive, inventive but well-behaved. Lots of lush strings and firm cadences underscored with timpani. I didn’t know until I read the program notes that Mozart wrote this in under six days, at the ripe old age of 27. The concerto (Mozart’s second) hadn’t actually ever been performed by the NY Phil before, hinting at the bottomless reservoir of fully enjoyable Mozart out there for orchestras to draw from. I like Gil Shaham; he played with the assured, majestic classical violin sound you hear from the Great Soloists on definitive old LP recordings. It's fantastic, though it doesn't carry me away too much.

Shaham was great in the Stravinsky, and more fun to watch, just by virtue of all the quick cross-cuts in tempo & rhythm, plus the overall playful energy of the thing. He can pull of a rough but steel-sharp low register, crucial for this piece.

But in Stravinsky it’s the full orchestra I love: the attention to instrumentation that edges all those sharp angles with precise gleams and shades. The variety of sound that gave Petroushka and the Rite of Spring their flash and earthy power gets channeled instead into razor-sharp detail work. And you’ve got all those marvelous frilly melodies, constantly in motion, baroque in style but made unusual and brittle. Fascinating specimens, in a wealth of colors & textures: listening to neoclassical Stravinsky is like wandering through a natural history museum’s hall of minerals.

David Robertson is exactly who you want conducting this sort of thing.

The concert was actually kicked off by a slam-bang rendition of the Candide overture, performed without conductor to memorialize, of all things, the sixteenth anniversary of Bernstein’s death date. Came off a bit too loud but, gosh, that’s a fun piece of music every time. Definitely dessert first at this concert.


Blogger Pete said...

"dessert first at this concert"? lame.

10/20/2006 2:15 AM  
Anonymous danblim said...

I've always been enchanted by the slow introduction to the Linz, which matches Figaro and Cosi for sheer affect for me, but the rest of the symphony falls short of the top of his output.

Shaham I remember hearing perform the Brahms concerto like it had been written in the past 60 years. Accenting the odd rhythms and abrupt harmonies, it was frighteningly compelling. Nice review, despite comments to the contrary

10/23/2006 12:12 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Thanks Dan! Always good to have a musicologist backing you up.

Yeah, the Linz comes off as pretty vanilla when you compare it to the 40th and 41st Symphonies, especially. Still, not bad for less than a week of writing!

I heard Shaham play the Bartok concerto in Philly once, and he was amazing. I think he's at his best with earthy, broad-shouldered stuff; I can imagine he could make a lot of hay with the Brahms.

10/23/2006 8:49 PM  

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