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Comin' Through the Wry

New York
Carnegie Hall
03/28/2000 -  
Kurt Weill: Kleine Dreigroschenmusik
Serge Prokofieff: Violin Concerto # 2
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony # 6

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)
Philadelphia Orchestra
David Robertson (conductor)

While surfing the net the other week I came upon an announcement of a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra which was neither listed in the Carnegie Hall brochure nor catalogued in the material provided me by this venerable institution. With great delight I contacted my gracious hosts at Carnegie and secured tickets for my friend and me. Only somewhat later did I realize that this was a replacement concert, necessary because Franz Welser-Moest had yet again cancelled his obligations. It boggles the mind that this talented but unreliable conductor should have recently been appointed the successor to von Dohnanyi in Cleveland and last night's substitute conductor and program bear witness to the continuation of the heir apparent's troubles. But we in New York were the beneficiaries as the fabulous Philadelphians have never sounded better.

Dozens of bad performances and several pop recordings have virtually done in the music from The Threepenny Opera. It was a pleasure therefore to hear musicians capture just the right detached style in playing this familiar music, the small chamber band creating the smoke in the eye atmosphere and proper portion of irony. The classical community has never quite known what to make of Kurt Weill and last evening's inclusion of such non-traditional instruments as banjo, accordion, saxophone and guitar seemed devilishly out of place, leaving one with a heightened appreciation for Weill the renegade. This is somewhat unfamiliar music to most of the performers, so it is legitimate to credit Mr. Robertson with infusing the suite with its ambience of Weimar decadence. One could hear echoes of the later American Weill, especially Lady in the Dark, and feel the slightly off-center musical imagery in a way that I have not heard since the Pabst film of the original Brecht collaboration. There was only hesitating applause for this piece and I had the sense that most of the audience members just didn't get it, but I for one was quite impressed with the precise capturing of an elusive idiom.


From the ironic to the sardonic is only a short journey and the orchestra was brilliant in accompanying its young soloist in the Prokofieff. The Iberian third movement was especially tight, although the violinist seemed to be a little overwhelmed by his high profile surroundings and played all of the notes but not really that much of the music. I suspect that he will loosen up in time and develop more as a musician now that he has the solid foundation of a technician.

There are few works of music which begin more passionately than the 6th Symphony of Shostakovich and it was truly an electrifying experience to hear this magnificent string section dig into this intense music. Without doubt this is the best orchestra in America and right up there with Berlin and Amsterdam in overall performance standards. A sublime 20 minutes of largo anguish, reminiscent of the only fully completed movement of Mahler 10, was followed by yet another take on political satire in the prototypical "middle finger in the pocket" style of the subtle dissident. The tempo of the presto movement seemed at first blush to be unsustainable and I worried for the tympanist but for nought as he hit every note in the cataclysmic finale flawlessly. Amazingly exciting music played extremely well, so well in fact that the New York crowd actually stayed and applauded rather than run for the exits. Carnegie has become the second home of this great ensemble and we in New York are delighted to have them visit, especially when they can exhibit so many shadings of that most elusive of all musical commodities: humor bundled in a serious overcoat.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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