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New York
Carnegie Hall
01/27/2003 -  
Carl Maria von Weber: Overture to Der Freischuetz
Robert Schumann: Violin Concerto; Symphony # 3

Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Philadelphia Orchestra
Wolfgang Sawallisch (conductor)

before there was the rheingold, before Bruckner’s “romantic” or Smetana’s “moldau”, there was the ”Rhenish” Symphony of Robert Schumann. Here the flow begins in medias res, plunging the listener in without warning as sure as its composer himself would soon make his fateful leap. Circadian passion fully formed; no introduction necessary.

Wolfgang Sawallisch immersed us all instantaneously with a startlingly brisk opening tempo which held sway throughout the first movement. This was an extremely masculine version of the piece, raging torrents, swirling eddies, but also calming, seductive inlets of three quarter time foreshadowing the major orchestral works of Schumann’s protégé Johannes Brahms. The sound of the orchestra was, as usual, first rate, and especially welcome to these buffeted and battered ears so recently assailed by a string of slovenly performances masquerading as professionalism.

The middle section of 2nd movement, remarkably similar to the same passages in the “Pathetique”, was especially luminescent, but the entire five movement essay was the epitome of steady grace, if one may speak of such grounding in essentially an extended barcarolle. The solid foundation established by Maestro’s unwavering hand allowed the delicate ebbs and flows to work their magic comfortingly. Too much has been made of Schumann’s delicate psyche and its effect on his music, but this traversal of the ”Rhenish” eloquently expressed the dichotomy of supremely confident romantic poetry and a deeply felt need for the security of the cradle. Combined with such gorgeous string playing, this intelligent and revelatory conception was most pleasing. In fact, this performance was the highlight of my season thus far.

The concert as a whole opened with a primer on tension building, as Sawallisch astonished with his progression from the stately to the frenetic and back again to the beautiful: just what the Freischuetz overture is supposed to accomplish but hardly ever does in live performance. I would have wished for more of a musical commitment from soloist Kavakos in the severely underrated and ridiculously underplayed Violin Concerto, a neglected jewel if ever there was one. My companion complemented his playing by describing it as effortless; I agreed, but, in this particular case, think of the word as more of a pejorative: too much hand and not enough heart.

As we left the hall, I overheard a patron discussing Maestro Sawallisch with the comment to his wife that “we are going to miss him”. Indeed we are. Of the big four recent appointments to music directorships of American orchestras, Christoph Eschenbach has by far the most difficult task to perform. Where others have only big shoes, he has those hip length river boots to fill.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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