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Little Pomp but Much Circumstance

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
05/16/2002 -  
Leonard Bernstein: Serenade after Plato's Symposium
Gustav Mahler: Symphony # 1

Glenn Dicterow (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Kurt Masur (conductor)

After eleven stormy seasons, Kurt Masur is at least able to design his own valedictory as he takes his involuntary leave of the New York Philharmonic. Maestro has chosen three final programs, each with special significance. The middle concert features the work of Anton Bruckner, the same composer who inaugurated the Masur era. The final event, which will be reviewed in these pages by concertonet Paris critic Antoine Leboyer, who was present for that maiden voyage, includes the conductor’s beloved Beethoven. For this first installment, the current music director of the oldest orchestra in America presents the works of two of his most illustrious predecessors. It might have been fun to also explore music of Pierre Boulez (or, even more obscurely, Dmitri Mitropoulos), but one of Mr. Masur’s most admirable qualities is his dispassionate self-knowledge. He is not comfortable with the music of our time and never presented himself as such. This provincialism may have cost him in the end, but life away from the pressure cooker will probably be very rejuvenating for him as he pursues his two new European ensembles.

I don’t know if he is a Shark or a Jet, but Glenn Dicterow fiddled his way through the Broadway rehash admirably. There are several deserving compositions of Lenny to resurrect but this is not one of them. Among other patented Bernstein characteristics is the pretentiousness of the title. One would think that any of the symphonies would have been more appropriate, but this is New York and union rules require so many solo appearances annually for the concertmaster. Perhaps this was indeed the most appropriate composition to usher the current enemy of the working man out of the door.

Kurt Masur did not do very much Mahler in their shared adopted city, but what he did was imbued with the requisite spirit. Interpretively, this was a well constructed performance, complete with hard to achieve lilt and, even though the tempi were heavily on the brisk side, the overall atmosphere was charming and dramatic. However, the myth of Masur the great orchestra builder was severely challenged by this sloppy rendering. Many entrances were tentative, not unlike those of the ensemble that maestro inherited back in ’91, intonation was appalling in many spots, and soli were uniformly misphrased, misstated, or simply misplayed (except for a sensitive double bass in the third movement). Heir apparent Lorin Maazel encourages his horn section to stand at the conclusion of the finale, as written in the score. Masur won’t even let them play with their bells up and therein lies the fundamental difference: flamboyance versus stolidity.

Surprisingly, there were quite a few empty seats for such an historic event. Perhaps four years was just a little too much time in which to say goodbye.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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