Concerto in E flat for Chamber Orchestra (Dumbarton Oaks)
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.63
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 2 April, 2009
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
In a city like New York it is not unusual to hear several different performances of the same piece during a season. When this happens within a short span of time, comparisons are inevitable. Barely two weeks ago, Susanna Mälkki conducted Dumbarton Oaks with Ensemble ACJW at Carnegie Hall’s 599-seat Zankel Hall. While theoretically this was the more appropriate venue for an ensemble of 15 musicians, the piece came across surprisingly well in Avery Fisher Hall with its more than 2,700 seats. A great deal of this had to do with the performance itself. While Mälkki dutifully beat out all the meter changes in large patterns, there was little sense of an overarching concept or character. Dutoit approached this work as music, first and foremost. The challenges for the conductor were dealt with subtly, and used as a means to bring out the humor and wit of Stravinsky’s take on J. S. Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto. The largely female (9 out of 16 – there was a ‘bumper’ horn) chamber ensemble of the New York Philharmonic responded with a very well played and highly nuanced, spirited rendition.
With the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto the comparison was even more obvious, as Vadim Repin had played it just three days earlier in the same hall with the London Symphony Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. Here too the NY Philharmonic performance was more appealing. While Repin appeared to use the concerto to show off his prodigious technique, the equally proficient Lisa Batiashvili presented a profoundly thoughtful and musical traversal. In the first movement she captured both its liveliness, and the expressive lyricism of the second theme. Heeding the composer’s marking of piano, she allowed the opening melody of the Andante to float simply and gently, and even in its later C major statement in forte it never lost its purity. Whereas Repin had sped through the finale, Batiashvili took her time with the recurring main theme, which was especially effective when the castanets join in. In addition, she structured the movement perfectly to build up to a powerful, exciting ending. Dutoit and the orchestra were sympathetic and sensitive partners throughout.
The New York Philharmonic responds well to Charles Dutoit, and he took full advantage of this rapport in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. While young conductors seem to be all the rage these days, there is no substitute for mature musicians who have dedicated themselves to certain repertoire for a long time. No longer is there any need to impress either the musicians or the audience, the works have been thoroughly internalized, insights have been gleaned, unnecessary gestures eliminated. Rather than beating the music into the orchestra, Dutoit elicited it, drew it out, shaping and phrasing it effortlessly. At 72 he is still light on his feet; at the same time he can also conjure up Tchaikovsky’s massive sonorities, not with histrionic gestures, but by calling upon his inner power and concept. From beginning to end this was a coherent journey through the piece, well structured and moving organically along Tchaikovsky’s path.
- Further performances on April 3 & 4
- Ensemble ACJW