New York Philharmonic/Colin Davis Nikolaj Znaider [Elgar & Mozart]

Introduction and Allegro, for string quartet and string orchestra, Op.47
Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 9 December, 2010
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOElgar’s Introduction and Allegro employs scoring that was novel for its time, which later inspired works such as Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The piece was written in 1905 for the newly founded London Symphony Orchestra. Sir Colin Davis procured a lush and warm timbre from the large string section. The swooping themes were passionate from the start, with increasing intensity as the piece developed. The Allegro’s fugue was articulated with precision. Members of the Philharmonic – Glenn Dicterow, Marc Ginsberg, Rebecca Young and Eric Bartlett – formed the string quartet. Concertmaster Dicterow was particularly noteworthy for his sweet timbre, perfectly suited to this unabashedly Romantic work.

Mozart’s ‘Linz’ Symphony, seemingly written in haste and completed and performed in less than a week, was his longest symphony to date. The Philharmonic gave an assured performance. In the opening movement, dynamic changes coincided with vast shifts of mood. Accents had just the right amount of weight without becoming too overbearing. The balance between strings and wind was excellent throughout; and, in the Andante, the nuanced dynamics were well-matched to harmonic changes. Tempos were moderately paced in the Minuet and in the Finale, both featuring sensitive phrasing by the strings. Yet the performance, though technically flawless, lacked that magical spark, sounding rather tired by the end.

Nikolaj ZnaiderElgar, himself a violinist, wrote his Violin Concerto at the request of Fritz Kreisler. During its composition, the composer wrote of its progress: “It’s good! Awfully emotional! Too emotional but I love it!” The piece was immensely popular at its composer-conducted premiere with Kreisler in 1910, who continued to perform it. Nikolaj Znaider, nearing the close of his tour of Elgar’s Violin Concerto in its centenary year, towered above the orchestra, nearly reaching the height of Sir Colin standing on the podium, also overpowered the orchestra with the consistently brilliant tone of his Guarneri del Gesù. This tone, though impressive in its size and intensity, was not particularly varied, and felt at odds to the Romanticism of the work. In the initial Allegro, his harsh bowing seemed more suited to Shostakovich than Elgar. His forceful playing was unrelenting, with no sense of softness, even when the volume was reduced. The Philharmonic was grand in the tutti sections, yet seemed too subdued when the soloist was playing. In the Andante, Znaider’s tone remained bright even when playing in high positions on the G-string. By now, his brilliant tone seemed less special, and the intense fortissimos seemed out of character. He executed the finale’s fast passages with apparent nonchalance, but with little regard to giving the meandering movement a sense of shape. Since each section was given maximum intensity of expression, there was no climax, and the piece seemed like an extended etude, one that dragged on for way too long.

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