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New Resident In Town

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
10/05/2011 -  & October 6*, 7, 2011
Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043
Alban Berg: Violin Concerto
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 3 op. 90

Frank Peter Zimmermann (Violin and Artist-in-Residence, 2011-12)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Violin, Conductor and Musical Director)

F. P. Zimmermann (© Courtesy of the Artist)

Conductor Alan Gilbert has a terrific way of welcoming new kids to the playground.

Frank Peter Zimmermann, the glorious young German violinist, has now joined the New York Philharmonic ranks as Artist-in-Residence. But instead of bringing him into the fold with a speech or pat on the back, Mr. Gilbert said to this virtuoso, “Hey, let’s play a duet together. With the orchestra.”

I’m uncertain what Mr. Zimmermann thought. Mr. Gilbert has become more and more “iconic” with the Phil, though not as a soloist. But in this case, the conductor was the boss, the violinist and conductor were old friends–and both of them had Stradivariuses (Stradivarii??), the conductor a 1752, the fiddler a 1711. So off they went, with a tiny Bach-sized orchestra, and a very engaging Bach Double Violin Concerto.

The work was played with what has become the rule. No more of the Oistrakh or Stern easy-going Bach, the first movement a pleasant duet amongst colleagues, the second movement oozing into almost cloyingly Romantic overlaps. This was fast-moving Bach through all three movements, the energy pushing each measure forward.

The first time I heard this fast-tempo Bach was an all-Bach program by Anne-Sophie Mutter, and I was a bit appalled. But she has insisted that this was the correct tempo for the composer, so who am I to quibble?
Messrs Gilbert and Zimmermann made a delightful duo, each pushing forward the other. Mr. Zimmermann sweetly and melodically playing the first violin part, Mr. Gilbert hardly inferior in the second role, but with deeper, almost viola-like tone. But this contrast, with a discreet accompanying Phil string section (standing, Baroque style) made a splendid opening.

Nothing, though, could prepare one for the Berg Violin Concerto. This is one work played better as the decades go on, as a tone-row work is no longer alien, and as one can integrate the so touching Bach chorale with the rest of the work. Most important, the Berg is not looked upon as a challenge but as a grief-stricken work (albeit with some dancing measures) as a memorial for an 18-year-old girl.

Mr. Zimmermann introduced it with whispering delicate tones, playing the tone row with a precise almost monotonous line. That, though, was the start of a journey in woe, description (the little waltzes depicting the youth of the girl) and an ending, after the Bach quote, not with simple softness but with like a prayer, a benediction.

A. Gilbert (© New York Philharmonic)

The Bach and Berg contrasted each other. The Brahms Third Symphony was a contrast in itself, both military, sweet, romantic and heroic. Granted, on Thursday evening there was a false note before the very first chord, but that could be welcomed as a sign of grace, a human fallibility in a fine orchestral interpretation.

Mr. Gilbert galloped along in the first movement, but the final three, especially the splendid brass in the partly-heroic finale, were taken at a pace which respected Brahms’ eloquent, fluidity and splendid music construction.

Harry Rolnick



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