Israel Philharmonic/Maazel in New York

Leonore No.3 – Overture
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition

Maxim Vengerov (violin)

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 30 January, 2007
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

This concert in New York (the first of two, the second conducted by Zubin Mehta) was a continuation of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s 70th-anniversary celebrations, which began in Israel last December with a series of 12 gala concerts.

Founded in 1936, the Israel Philharmonic is one of the country’s oldest and most influential cultural institutions. Its establishment as the Palestine Orchestra by Polish-born violinist Bronislaw Huberman predated the founding of the state of Israel by 12 years. This concert was also the first performance on the orchestra’s 2007 United States tour, which includes follow-up concerts in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This program of familiar favorites was conducted by Lorin Maazel, who was named an honorary life member of the orchestra in 1985, and featured the Russian-born Israeli violinist Maxim Vengerov.

Following a stirring rendition of ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ (the US national anthem) and an equally moving performance of ‘Hatikva’, the Israeli national anthem, the scheduled program began with a strong, dramatic and highly satisfying account of the Leonore No.3 Overture. In Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Vengerov gave a dedicated performance, with Maazel and the IPO musicians providing an accompaniment of great character. Never understating the poetry of the work, but always playing from deep inside the music and without self-indulgence, Vengerov’s performance was distinguished by his ravishingly beautiful tone, seamless bowing, and intense, focused vibrato. The first movement was stately and taken on the slow side; the Larghetto was rapt in simplicity and led on to a sprightly, mercurial account of the finale. Vengerov used his own brilliant, stylistically appropriate cadenzas.

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which made up the second half of the program, took a while to warm up. Once this happened, the work became vivid and well played, but overall came across with less excitement and spectacle than expected. Ravel’s incomparable orchestration offers many opportunities for orchestra principals to shine, and some in the IPO did – the horn, saxophone, and trumpet in particular. But it was the playing of the violins and the woodwinds that proved most memorable. Despite a less than involving performance with a rather tepid ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ finale, the audience gave the orchestra warm, persistent applause, to which Maazel and the orchestra responded with an encore: a rip-roaring account of Glinka’s bustling overture to “Ruslan and Ludmilla”.

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