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Vienna Players Sweep Mozart and Wagner

New York
Carnegie Hall
03/03/2012 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 40, in G Minor K. 550
Richard Wagner (and Lorin Maazel): The Ring Without Words

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (conductor)

L. Maazel (Courtesy of V.P.)

The Vienna Philharmonic’s annual residency at Carnegie Hall is one of New York’s most anticipated and sought after musical events. This year the duty of leading it went to the long famous conductor Lorin Maazel, now over 80 but still in superb form. The first concert, an evening of three Sibelius symphonies, played well but seemed only a precursor to some of the most dynamic work in the late German Romantic repertoire for which the orchestra steadily maintains legendary fame.

This is not to say the Sibelius offerings or Mozart’s Fortieth were badly performed. The Sibelius concert will be reviewed separately, but it was a fine outing. The Mozart symphony seemed a bit slow and perhaps a little too careful, but virtuoso playing stood very much in evidence. The Wagner piece in the second concert displayed a real strength. Maazel’s orchestration of leading moments from Wagner’s epic Ring of the Nibelung has been around for 25 years now and distills the larger work’s monumental themes, dramatic scenic depictions, and vivid characterizations into 70 minutes of uninterrupted orchestral playing. The concept is mostly a success, though occasionally the transitions seem a bit rough and perhaps even haphazard. The Vienna players surged in the brass and string parts to deliver a full bodied and irresistibly rich sound that made one realize how sweet a thing it is to hear Wagner played in a concert hall rather than an opera house.

Some critics (myself included) have criticized Maazel’s conducting for being too precise and too technical, causing the music to lose emotional power and dramatic flair. The stellar playing of the Wagner excerpts readily dispelled that illusion. The performance was about power, dynamism, and feeling.

Paul du Quenoy



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