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and Heard International Concert Review
Bach,Ligeti and Schumann:
(violin) New York Philharmonic Orhestra, Alan
Gilbert (conductor) Avery Fisher Hall, New York
City 17.3.2007 (BH)
(attrib.): Toccata and Fugue in
D minor, BWV 565 (orch. by Stokowski,
Violin Concerto (1990; rev.
Fuga (Ricercata) from Musikalisches
Opfer (Musical Offering), BWV
1079 (1747, orch. by Webern, 1934-35)
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major,
“Rhenish,” Op. 97 (1850)
So raise your hand if you have heard
Stokowski’s dark, meaty arrangement
of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in
D minor other than in Walt Disney’s
film, Fantasia. (I am
keeping my hand down.) Stokowski
represents almost a throwback in our
ideas about the composer, in a time
when the “historically informed performance”
movement was only a gleam in Trevor
Pinnock’s eye. As the sprawling
onstage ensemble bore out, this is
Bach served up as large as possible:
chewy, sinewy, indomitable.
I don’t hold any grudges against those
who find this arrangement intolerably
kitschy, but conductor Alan Gilbert
– on his way to major stardom – filled
the hall to bursting with an orchestral
heft and dramatic sweep that could
have been Verdi.
In a fairly inspired pairing, Gilbert
followed the blazing Bach with the
multiple intrigues of Ligeti’s
Violin Concerto, with Christian
Tetzlaff in astounding form, at one
point even suavely turning a page
with his left hand while bowing with
his right. Ligeti’s concerto
is a chamber work in which the soloist
is sometimes merely the main star
nestled in a galaxy. Whether
in a duet with the xylophone, or perched
at the top of the stave with low brass
growling in a chasm far below, Tetzlaff
was matched at every step by some
of the most immaculate playing I’ve
heard from the Philharmonic.
Microtones abound. Of the five
violins and three violas, one of each
is played scordatura, retuned
to create an eerily disquieting texture.
The second movement (“Aria, Hoquetus,
Choral”) had the ache of Brahms –
except that Brahms would never in
a million years have conceived of
using ocarinas, had they been available.
(I believe his time slot narrowly
missed their invention.)
In his own cadenza in the final “agitato
molto,” the violinist combined some
of Ligeti’s sparks with quiet parts
of the second “Aria,” and at the conclusion
got a roar of approval from the audience,
summoning out for an encore.
His choice turned out to be quite
different from the Bach “Sarabande”
(from the D minor Partita)
that he played on Thursday.
I was much happier to witness his
spellbinding account of the final
movement of Bartók’s Sonata for
Solo Violin, showing off Tetzlaff’s
virtuosity while allowing Ligeti’s
quiet dazzler of a piece to linger
in the memory.
After intermission came another Bach
arrangement, the Fuga (Ricercata)
but this time the vision was Webern’s.
Rather than piling on Stokowski’s
whipped cream and overwrought arpeggios,
Webern gives us Bach as tiny droplets,
gently falling to sizzle on the roof
of a car. Webern’s instrumentalists
add and subtract, sometimes completing
each other’s sentences, and Gilbert’s
cues couldn’t have been more delicate.
Scorecard: one for density, two for
transparency. To end the evening,
Gilbert evened that score, delivering
a Schumann Third Symphony with
Brucknerian heft (not that there aren’t
other ways to play this work).
The opening was as richly expansive
as the Webern was spare, with some
horn work that one could sense was
raising eyebrows all over the hall.
As the details continued, with a stirring
viola section in the third movement,
I kept writing, “Again, the horns!”
And the interesting cross-references
kept coming, with the solemn fourth
movement making a fleeting reference
to that Webern. In the pursuit
of balance, Gilbert was the evening’s
most elegant architect.
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