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Carter, Schumann, Brahms: Frank Peter Zimmermann, Violin, New York Philharmonic, Ludovic Morlot, Conductor, Avery Fisher Hall, New York City 4.3.2006 (BH)



Elliott Carter: Allegro scorrevole (1996)

Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120 (1841/1851)

Brahms: Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 77 (1878-79)



Some conductors might blanch at stepping in at the last minute, but one would never know it from Ludovic Morlot’s unexpected debut with the New York Philharmonic last week.  With a program chosen by Christoph von Dohnányi (stricken with bronchitis), Morlot captured the distinct moods of three contrasting works with elegance that sounded as if it had been cultivated for many more weeks, beginning with a fluttering Allegro scorrevole by Elliott Carter.  In an interview with critic Paul Griffiths (who also wrote the libretto of Carter’s opera, What Next?), the composer recalls a Chardin painting of a boy blowing bubbles, along with a 17th-century poem by Richard Crashaw that describes the view from an airborne bubble that eventually disappears.  The orchestra is restless, passing little flickers overhead, back and forth, throughout the ensemble.  The effect is like those little gusts of wind that catch small bags and whirl them around and around, occasionally vaulting over the roofs of small buildings.  If only the gauzy gesture by the piccolo that ends the work had not been marred by an unfortunately timed cough.  (Perhaps more patrons need to scoop up handfuls of the free lozenges in the lobby bins.)

Written some 120 years earlier than the Carter, Schumann’s Fourth Symphony shares much of its light, fleet energy, at least in Morlot’s deft reading.  The piece never wants to slow down.  Even the lovely Romance seems almost hurried, as if the over-eager composer can’t wait to get to the bubbly Scherzo, played here with muscular verve.  Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow had the delightful task of executing some solos in the second movement, matching Schumann’s seemingly effortless work with his own.  The finale was very, very fast, but the chase didn’t faze the ensemble in the least.

When violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann first began the Brahms Violin Concerto, I mistakenly joked to a friend about “Lt. Zimmerman,” but I quickly felt guilty about the nickname as the warmth of his interpretation enveloped the hall.  His performing posture is sturdy and straight as a board; he seems snapped to attention and often keeps his feed planted together, with very little upper body motion.  (Contrast this with someone like Gil Shaham a few weeks ago, who was virtually swooning onstage.)  The friend with me pronounced Zimmermann’s interpretation “very modern,” and indeed, his approach was more on the unsentimental side, although there was no want of feeling.  It is probably no coincidence that two of his most recent recordings are of works by Kurt Weill and György Ligeti.

At the beginning the orchestra took a few minutes to hit its stride, but then the strings launched the first movement’s main theme with a luxuriously felt ardor.  The outstanding oboe in the Adagio was but one of a chorus of excellent, clear woodwinds, and the final Allegro giocoso had Zimmermann in complete command, with Morlot and the orchestra in regal synchronization.  If Mr. Morlot can accomplish all of this on such short notice, it will be fun to see what he can do in a program of his own design. 



Bruce Hodges







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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)