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The Good Old Days

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
04/27/2002 -  
Jean Sibelius: Pohjola's Daughter; Six Humoresques; Symphony # 5
Glenn Dicterow (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)

“…and your friends, baby,
they treat you like a guest…”

Darby Slick, “Somebody To Love”

Just when this reviewer thought that there had been some glimmer of significant improvement in the New York Philharmonic, fortuitously coincidental with the passing of the Kurt Masur era, these scamps, reliable only for their inconsistency, were up to their old tricks last evening at Avery Fisher Hall in an all-Sibelius program conducted by principal guest conductor Sir Colin Davis. Although I had some problems with the interpretation of the Symphony # 5, finding this frequent visitor’s cool detachment rather off-putting when actually so much warmth is required to convey the inchoate feelings of patriotism in the composer’s breast (although conceived in Connecticut, the fleshing out of this piece was accomplished after Sibelius returned home to the brutal onset of the Great War), the real problem this night was the amateurish and positively pedestrian sound of the ensemble as a whole. In a work where the delicate tone painting relies almost exclusively on the coloration of the sound, many individual chords, especially in the third movement, would have been totally unacceptable to even a student conductor, and I began to receive the distinct impression that Sir Colin was only putting up with such tonal harshness because this was the New York Philharmonic. I seriously doubt that he would stand for the same enunciation from the London Symphony. The solidly executed opening, with warmly glowing horns, was slowly forgotten as the raveled finale demonstrated the lack of staying power in an ensemble known for its short attention span. When one thinks of the Sibelius 5, the glorious ending is paramount in the memory. This extremely emotional and attention grabbing conclusion, a Bernstein specialty, was little more than a series of squawks from the Phil, comical enough in themselves, but rendered hilarious when the timpanist ejaculated prematurely in the penultimate utterance, too impatient to wait for the maestro to frame the proper dramatic silence.

The program opened with an atmospheric reading of Pohjola’s Daughter (one of the highlights of the composer’s 1914 Yale summer residence) introduced with a gorgeous solo from new cellist Hai-Ye Ni. The rarity on the program was ably navigated by concertmaster Glenn Dicterow but was little more than a string of forgettable encore pieces reminiscent of those Fritz Kreisler compositions “in the style of” various composers. Any one of these bagatelles might be classified as charming, but all six together were only cumulatively tedious. You know that the music is not very inspiring when several members of the orchestra openly converse among themselves even as their leader is performing right in front of them. This entire embarrassing performance evoked feelings of nostalgia for the first days under Masur (or even the dark age of Boulez) and seemed to confirm their critics worst suspicions: no matter who stands up there in front, in the rear they will always be the Phil. Does Lorin Maazel have any idea of what is in store for him?

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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