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Maestro Maazel in a New Maserati

Orange County
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
10/31/2006 -  
Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a
Kodaly: Dances of Galanta
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55, “Sinfonia Eroica”

New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel (Conductor)

The New York Philharmonic with Lorin Maazel was the first American visiting orchestra to perform in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. As part of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s visiting orchestra series, this concert was certainly a fantastic test of the hall’s impressive acoustic prowess. Like Mario Andretti in a new Maserati, Maazel tried to blow doors off the reverb chambers of the new Artec Consultants designed hall. This often unruly and sometimes sloppy orchestra responded instantaneously to every nuance of the Maestro’s baton, as if every player was connected to it by a taut metaphysical string. They showed themselves to be the thoroughbreds that we know they must be, demonstrating respect and a rare deference to Maestro Maazel. By now this conductor’s careful, even idiosyncratic, attention to detail is almost legend and the new hall was an ideal vessel for him to pilot at high speed.

The opening to Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn was relatively relaxed, overall, in comparison to the volatile thrust of the other pieces. It seemed for a moment perfunctory, even a little mushy, as if they were just walking through the performance. But as they warmed up, it became expansive, even magisterial. As the music’s drama developed, the horns in particular began to show their power, swelling into explosive majesty. Watching Maazel, it occurred to me that in a film Jack Nicholson might play him, perhaps a huge stretch for the actor, but an interesting challenge.

The Dances of Galanta were swift and beautiful, technically brilliant but lacking gravity or personality. There was little gypsy swagger and any sense of Budapest was distant.

After the intermission, Maazel leaped right into the main course, Beethoven’s Eroica, the piece that brought everyone out for the evening. The audience was immediately enthralled. The performance was stunning, but failed to reveal any great depth of emotion. Although unmistakably skilled and even adept, the Philharmonic’s Eroica was not as moving as it might have been. The band is clearly braced by Maazel; he challenges them and inspires them to an incredibly expert brilliance and power. But even with Maazel leading them, the New York musicians seemed jaded and world-weary, as if they have seen it all and it all leaves them cynical, lacking luster. All of the tragedy and wisdom, the profound sadness for the human condition, and even the celebration of the human spirit, was largely absent. Their recitation was bright and clear: what a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, paragon of animals- but it was affected, lacking sincerity. The interpretation was ultimately mechanical. But regardless, I am not really complaining- this was a rare musical feat. You won’t hear something like this very often in life. But it is a strange kind of musicality, like a Ferrari -an exquisite, fiery work of art, but still a machine.

Maazel’s Eroica was beautiful and impassioned, even glorious, precise, full of strength, fantastically loud, clear, extremely professional, but not deep as the sea, as Beethoven would want it. As a sensational encore they played Wagner’s Overture to the Meistersinger, and the audience went wild. Then the Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin left us even more overwhelmed. Although the program was not particularly adventurous, it was solid and exhilarating, an excellent send off to begin the orchestra’s tour of Japan and Korea. And our new concert hall made Avery Fisher seem like a ’71 Cadillac.

Thomas Aujero Small



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