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From Oboe With Love

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
03/13/2009 -  & March 14, 2009
Felix Mendelssohn: Overture to “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, opus 21
Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerto in A Major for Oboe d’Amore, Strings and Basso Continuo, TWV 51/A2
Max Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 26
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel)

Thomas Stacy (Oboe d’amore), Glenn Dicterow (Violin)
New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel (Conductor)

Thomas Stacy (© Chris Lee)

The concept is unthinkable. That an otherwise rational New Yorker should wake up on a cloudless crisp Friday morning, eyes radiating joy, and words pouring out of his mouth the way music poured out of the most fecund mind in musical history, stating, “Friday the 13th be damned! Today, I shall leap with joy to Lincoln Centre for the music of Georg Philipp Telemann!! Huzzah!”

Inconceivable, yes, for even after reading Romain Rolland’s defense of Telemann as the worthy rival of Bach, even after meeting perversely perfervid Londoners from the Telemann Appreciation Society, even after acknowledging that Telemann was a musical parodist, humorist and composer of more music than Bach and Handel combined……well, he is hardly the most exciting figure of the Baroque period.

Still, one concerto (of his several hundreds) stands out, for it brings upon the stage an instrument rarely heard. The original Italian Oboe d’amore, Telemann’s liebesoboe our own “oboe of love” and that is beautiful enough. Its uses in Bach are relatively plentiful, but not especially picturesque. Yet when Richard Strauss wanted to depict a child dreaming, in Sinfonia Domestica, what else could you use but “the oboe of love”?

When NY Phil principal oboist Thomas Stacy brought this instrument to the stage, only the pear-shaped bell, like an English horn, made it look different than our conventional oboe. But the moment Stacy began playing, one realized the different in nuance and sometimes even tone.

This is the “mezzo” oboe, a sweet more placid instrument, and the sophisticated Mr. Telemann had no need to show off its extremes. Mr. Stacy played the first movement with such smoothness, the embellished runs with almost glissando fluidity, that one was wooed over immediately. The second faster movement had a delicious echoing effect with the strings, and Mr. Stacy worked the lower registers. Nor was Telemann averse from some subtle romantic notions in the Largo, the harpsichord adding the low lines to the soloist’s meanderings.

The finale turned the Oboe d’amore to the oboe da caccia, a hunting organ with the usual horn hunting calls and Mr. Stacy leading on the charge.

This was a lovely treat, played with such confidence by Mr. Stacy that the truncated orchestra stood up to salute his mellifluous prowess.

The other three works were guaranteed audience-pleasers. Yet when NY Phil concertmaster Glenn Dicterow played the Bruch Violin Concerto, he added that special unsentimental limpidity to the work. (I was going to write that he turned a sometimes babbling Bruch into a limpid pool, but decided not to.)

It was technically flawless (one does not become Concertmaster for making errors!), and the Adagio was silky smooth in a long sustained line, leading to that still exciting finale.

The opening Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream overture was not Maestro Maazel or the strings at their best, the latter sounding rather ragged, a “Friday matinee” performance. Still, it gave one time to examine the beautiful winds in a youthful work which sounded more like Mozart than a young Romantic.

The final Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures made up for that with a crisp performance, beginning with a rich clarion call from the trumpet, and an unusually cantabile but certainly resonant finale.

CODA: During the intermission, I was contemplating the life-span of Max Bruch, 82 years from 1838 to 1920. Or putting it another way, Bruch was already ten years old when Mendelssohn died—and by the time Bruch himself died, our own Elliott Carter was already 11 years old, composing his first music.

It must say something—though I know not what—that, in our 5,000-odd years of settled civilization, 75 percent of our concert programs can be extracted from the life-cycle of a single individual.

Harry Rolnick



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