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Bohemian Rhapsodies

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
04/30/2009 -  & May 1, 2, 5, 2009
AntonŪn DvorŠk: Zlatż kolovrat (The Golden Spinning Wheel)
Camille Saint-SaŽns: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 61
Bohuslav Martinu: Symphony No. 4, H. 305

Joshua Bell (Violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Conductor)


Joshua Bell (© Chris Lee)


Alan Gilbert, the heir-apparent to Lorin Maazel, exhibited his conductorial charm last night with three immediately appealing composers. Two of the pieces were relative rarities, but the two Bohemian composers were hardly challenging. The middle work, Joshua Bell playing Camille Saint-SaŽnsí tuneful Third Violin Concerto was a surefire winner.


One immediate problem was evident in the opening DvorŠk Golden Spinning Wheel. This is no pretty-pretty descriptive tone-poem. Written for a Bohemian fairy tale involving decapitation, romance, war, wolves eating people, a mother selling her daughterís eyes, and resurrection of the dead, the story is hardly simple.

Add to that, not since Vivaldiís Seasons has a composer followed the written lines so literally in the music, where every piece of war and gore is spelled out. If one doesnít know the story, then the piece is as disjointed as a ballet score.

No, there was little musical unity here. But the piece was filled with military horn calls, bucolic winds and some lovely orchestral playing by the orchestra. Oblivious to the Central European sadism involved, the Phil audience enjoyed the sounds themselves.


No apologies were necessary for still boyish-looking Joshua Bell. No longer does he have to wow audiences with his dexterity and extrovert performances, though the Saint-SaŽns concerto can easily call for those virtues. Instead of merely emphasizing a few of those gorgeous themesóthe second movement romance and the last-movement choraleóMr. Bell played it with a lean, almost conservative tone. We heard a piece of elegant violin-playing from a French composer who breathed drawing-room sophistication.


The last work was the test for the Philharmonic itself. Bohuslav Martinu: is played all too rarely here. Perhaps because this most prodigious composer marched to a different drummer (he was largely self-taught), and because his most wonderful pieces (like the Frescoes, his piano concertos, and the opera Juilietta) are magnitudes above the other works, conductors donít want to take a chance. In fact, the Fourth Symphony was performed by the Phil only once before, a quarter-century ago.

But Martinu, like that other iconoclast, Berlioz, knew his orchestra so well that he could create dazzling sounds. One can grow tired of his consistently swirling strings, but never the radiance of his brass, the happily blazing fanfares and a finale in the Fourth Symphony that was velocity personified.

A peripatetic man from his maturity, Martinu knew exactly where he was going with his music, and Mr. Gilbert did his best to follow the glittering path of the music. Recordings do no justice to this work, which is iridescent at its best. Perhaps Mr. Gilbert made the second movement more heavily martial, and the Largo, while not a drudge, did seem to drag a bit. Yet at his best, Mr. Gilbert lifted his orchestra nearly up to Martinuís singular canopy of stars and comets.



Harry Rolnick

 

 

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