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Seen and Heard International Concert Review


Beethoven and Schumann:
Seattle Symphony, Günther Herbig, conductor, Nikolaj Znaider, violin, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 12.2.2006 (BJ)

A richly romantic reading of one of the great classical concertos, juxtaposed with a sufficiently expressive but classically restrained performance of a quintessentially romantic symphony, made this Seattle Symphony concert an intriguing study in style contrasts. The concerto was Beethoven’s for violin, with Nikolaj Znaider, born in Denmark 31 years ago to Polish-Israeli parents, as soloist.

Risks are a necessary element in any worthwhile music-making, and Znaider showed himself eminently willing to take them. The result was one of the most open-hearted renderings of this great work you could hope to hear. Znaider’s tone is big and gloriously warm, his phrasing generously expansive. I could only have wished for an equally large measure of expressive discretion and technical control, but many passages saw grandeur spill over into exaggeration because he allowed emotion to push him into ungainly bulges of tone and some surprisingly approximate intonation. Znaider is said to be a fine Mozart player; I hope a future encounter with him in more suitable repertoire may enable me to be more unreservedly enthusiastic about a bold and likeable young talent.


Meanwhile, under the baton of guest conductor Günther Herbig, the orchestra fulfilled its role with no less warmth but rather more accuracy. Herbig is an insufficiently celebrated master of the great Austro-German tradition, and after intermission he gave us a performance of my favorite Schumann symphony–No. 3, the “Rhenish”–that offered abundant pleasure and many touches of insight at once illuminating and fastidious.

This is a conductor who misses little, yet never exaggerates – I could actually have welcomed a touch less fastidiousness at one or two crucial points in the finale, where a momentary relaxation of the pulse might have enhanced the effect of some stunning formal invention on Schumann’s part. But that is a tiny complaint. The overall impression was of a rousing symphonic masterpiece realized by a conductor in his element and an orchestra in fine fettle, every section firing on all cylinders, and the horns in particular producing prodigies of strength and accuracy in the many taxing declamatory unisons the composer demands of them.


Bernard Jacobson



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