New York Philharmonic/Andrey Boreyko – New World Symphony – Frank Peter Zimmermann plays Shostakovich

Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, Op.89 – Overture
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.99
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Andrey Boreyko

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 23 November, 2012
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Felix Mendelssohn wrote Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde (Son and Stranger) at the age of 20 as a gift for his parents on their silver wedding anniversary. The opera was a success at its premiere in the Mendelssohn home with the vocal roles sung by family and friends, yet it was not published until after the composer’s death. Andrey Boreyko emphasized the Overture’s lyrical nature and drew a rich and warm sound from the New York Philharmonic’s string section in the opening measures. The woodwind solos were light and delicate, highlighting the piece’s youthful optimism. Although the balance was off between these two sections in their calls and responses, this was a minor quibble and no detriment to overall enjoyment.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s career fell in and out of favor with the Soviet authorities. His First Violin Concerto was completed five years before Stalin’s death, but the premiere was delayed until two years after the dictator’s passing. It is dedicated to David Oistrakh. Composer and violinist Veniamin Basner (1925-96), a student in Shostakovich’s class, was the first to try the piece. He recalled Oistrakh’s plea to the composer: “Dmitri Dmitriyevich, please consider letting the orchestra take over the first eight bars in the finale so as to give me a break, then at least I can wipe the sweat off my brow.”

Frank Peter Zimmermann. Photograph: Franz HammFrank Peter Zimmermann gave a technically accomplished but emotionally deficient performance. In the opening ‘Moderato’, instead of conjuring up the haunting, icy fear of living under the brutal Soviet regime, Zimmermann’s warm tone, lush vibrato and smooth bowing felt robotic and without nuance or emotional depth. Accents in the ‘Scherzo’ were incisive and raunchy, yet insufficiently angry despite his distracting foot-stomping. His brisk pace in the ‘Passacaglia’ leached out its sinister nature, and the fiendish ‘Cadenza’ lacked direction despite perfect intonation even when the tempo became manic. The ‘Finale’ offered ample excitement, the percussion section admirable (Shostakovich having heeded Oistrakh’s call for mercy), and Zimmermann’s technical virtuosity allowing him to sail through his part with astounding ease.

In December 1893 the New York Philharmonic conducted by Anton Seidl played the premiere of Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony at Carnegie Hall. In the present performance, the Philharmonic gave an enthusiastic account that suffered only by the difference in venue – Avery Fisher Hall’s acoustics being a detriment beyond any conductor’s control. The strings’ precision was pointed in the opening Allegro, and the second theme was lilting and relaxed with lovely nuances. Keisuke Ikuma played the Largo’s English horn solo with elegant simplicity, and Boreyko paced the movement with plenty of breathing room, yet still allowed each phrase to have a destination. The brass was crisp and driven in the scherzo, with good balance between strings and winds. The finale’s climaxes were well paced, allowing the coda to achieve a thrilling intensity despite the occasional acoustic murkiness in fortissimo passages.

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