New York Philharmonic/Dohnányi – Mozart & Bruckner

Sinfonia concertante in E flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K364
Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [Robert Haas edition]

Glenn Dicterow (violin) & Cynthia Phelps (viola)

New York Philharmonic
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Andrew Farach-Colton

Reviewed: 10 December, 2009
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

You might think that, in terms of blend and musical cohesion, the concertmaster and first violist of an orchestra would likely be ideal soloists for Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante. In actuality, however, Glenn Dicterow and Cynthia Phelps are surprisingly disparate musical personalities: Dicterow’s playing is glossy and extroverted whereas Phelps’s is more tellingly expressive and mercurial. When playing together, they’re generally in sync, yet they came at Mozart’s score from what seemed like opposing perspectives. Phelps has a tendency to rush, while Dicterow is inclined to take his time. Phelps was most compelling in the lyrical confessions of the central Andante; Dicterow made the most of the opening Allegro’s rhetoric, but his reading of the finale was distinctly lacking in poise.

Christoph von Dohnányi drew articulate, stylish playing from a relatively small string ensemble, but the overall effect was rather stodgy – not only in terms of tempo, but emotionally, too. This is one of Mozart’s most dramatic concertante works, yet there was precious little drama in this conductor’s constricted interpretation.

In Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony Dohnányi made every detail a part of the greater whole. His patience paid enormous dividends in the outer movements, where he constructed impressively expansive arcs while simultaneously registering even the smallest harmonic surprises. The Philharmonic strings sounded positively radiant in the slow movement, and there was magic in every transitional phrase. The scherzo was taken at a deliberate tempo, yet there was so much bristling energy in the rhythmic figuration that the effect was tremendously exciting. Also, while Dohnányi manipulated the tempo quite freely, the ebb and flow felt utterly natural and right. The finale was especially impressive in this regard: the contrast between the fearsome force of the theme hammered in octaves and the luscious sweetness of the lyrical thematic idea that followed not only underscored the music’s essential strangeness, but made architectural sense, as well.

The Philharmonic played brilliantly throughout, and with obvious devotion to Dohnányi’s impressively economical direction. The brass was restrained and noble, the strings dug in with gusto, and oboist Liang Wang’s solos were phrased exquisitely.

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