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Doing What He Does Best

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
01/15/2004 -  
Carl Maria von Weber: Overture to Der Freischuetz
Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto # 1
Robert Schumann: Symphony # 3

Sarah Chang (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Kurt Masur (conductor)

One constant in New York concert life is that there will always be students waiting outside of the major venues just before intermission, hoping to score ticket stubs from patrons who have decided to call it a night and, by this process, experiencing the second half of otherwise rather expensive entertainments. Those hardy enough to brave the sub-zero cold last evening outside of Avery Fisher Hall (the Juilliard dormitories are just next door) had the opportunity to hear quite a fine concert, as their portion consisted of the Symphony # 3 of Robert Schumann conducted by one of the acknowledged living masters of this segment of the repertoire, Kurt Masur. At least putting aside their differences for the good of the gate, maestro and the Philharmonic management and players are making nice for a three week reunion, and the inclusion of a central European masterpiece such as this one is inspired indeed. From the outset, Masur whipped his former troops into just the right ebb and flow of the river, bobbing up and down like Herr Schumann himself before the fishermen got to him. In fact, this stolid conductor seemed positively unplugged during this rendition, allowing his players considerable latitude in crescendo, trusting (goodness knows why) that they would be able to sustain proper intonation at high decibel levels. Overall, this was an energetic reading, even if some of the individual readers were sometimes on a different page.

But those of us who encountered the entire evening were less appreciative. As in many previous Masur concerts, the featuring of a 20th century work did not reveal the meister at his interpretive best. Although I am probably in the minority here, I have never thought of the two Shostakovich violin concerti as even close seconds to the much more inventive duo by Prokofieff and find the constant quotations from other of Dmitri’s works in the Violin Concerto # 1 a bit tiresome. Having said this, the run at it by Sarah Chang was certainly filled with energy and commitment, even if the emotive power was left somewhere on the tundra. Masur did not seem comfortable in this idiom (he certainly wasn’t animated like in the Schumann) and Ms. Chang did not ever reach the anguished center of the piece, especially in the normally intense slower sections. Her performance, athletic on its face, consisted of large quantities of blood, sweat and toil, but virtually no tears. Shostakovich wrote no parts for trumpet or trombone in this concerto, so it was left to the Philharmonic horn section to make enough mistakes to remind us of their missing comrades.

The only atypical part of the evening was the opening overture. One would have bet the ranch that Kurt Masur would be sharp in Freischeutz, but last night’s performance was disappointingly flabby, although this incredible music can shine through even the murkiest of wolf’s glens. What was missing technically were sharp accents and philosophically a sense of drama. Well, maybe Masur had enough of that while being summarily dismissed two seasons ago.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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