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Another Part of the Forest

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
10/21/1999 -  
Richard Wagner: Siegfried Idyll
Max Bruch: Violin Concerto #1
Robert Schumann: Symphony #1 "Spring"

Glenn Dicterow (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Christian Thielemann (conductor)

Perhaps the most significant disappointment in the tenure of Kurt Masur has been the total lack of programming of the music of Wagner in the New York Philharmonic seasons of the past ten years. Maestro grew up under the Nazis and flourished in the hothouse environment of the former East Germany, most notably in Leipzig, the city of Wagner’s birth which has as of yet no statue to this great master. For many years the Commissars of East Berlin tried to expurgate the ghosts of Winifred Wagner and her notorious hospitality towards Adolf Hitler, turning half of Germany as abominably prejudiced against its vibrant native son (and ancillarily against the Austrian Bruckner) as the Third Reich had been towards Mendelssohn and Mahler. Just as von Karajan only came to Mahler at the end of his life, so Masur is hesitatingly beginning to explore the concert repertoire related to the flourishing Wagner industry just next door, where James Levine has turned the Met into the premiere German house in the world.

It was therefore a pleasure to anticipate some music of the master conducted by a young man who seems to have found the sword to slay the dragon guarding the horde of talent available in the New York Philharmonic’s lair. Maestro Thielemann, of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, conducted a brilliant Alpensymphonie last season and continues now to show his mastery of the repertoire of his native land. The Philharmonic could do a lot worse (and probably will) in choosing this young man to replace the outgoing music director. The performance of the Idyll was full-bodied as the expanded orchestrated version should be and there was some extremely tender string playing that I would have thought was a little beyond the reach of this particular group. Some of the tenderness is inevitably lost in the full orchestra version of this chamber piece and yet Thielemann wrung out as much emotion as possible.

It is a great shame that Max Bruch is really only known for one work as his entire out put is worthy of serious study (his three symphonies are mysteriously virtually unknown outside of Germany), but at least that work is a spectacular one. Great beauty and power and combined in a memorable way and virtually any performance of the Violin Concerto #1 leaves the listener enchanted. Glenn Dicterow is a very competent fiddler and, as concertmaster of the orchestra, has often impressed in small solos within big works. He navigated the Bruch flawlessly but does not possess the big, warm tone necessary for a first class performance of a work so Romantically intense.

Continuing the quintessentially German (as opposed to Austro-German) motive of the open sounds of the Black Forest, Thielemann programmed the large paean to nature that is one of the staples of the Schumann view of pantheism slightly melancholic because the perspective is that of the asylum window (others in this group include the Waldscenen, the "Rhenish" Symphony and The Happy Farmer). Here the orchestra really shone, with broad sweeping brass and robustly blended strings. Thielemann appears to let his section leaders and soloists participate in decisions of tempo and the result is a much freer wash of sound rather than a sense of being too tightly controlled (there is a difference between precision and obsession). Everyone, novice to aficionado, could sit back and relax in this familiar program of great music which left us all with a warm sense of the human spirit, the harmony of nature, and, dare I say it?, a fresh optimism as to the future of this troubled orchestra.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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