Don Juan, Op.20
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber
Itzhak Perlman (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 23 September, 2010
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Don Juan, one of Richard Strauss’s earlier tone poems, was not universally acclaimed in its day. Eduard Hanslick was not impressed by its abstract instrumental description, and wrote of it: “This is no ‘tone painting’ but rather a tumult of brilliant daubs, a faltering tonal orgy… The composer may thus be compared with a routine chemist who well understands how to mix all the elements of the musical-sensual stimulation to produce a stupefying ‘pleasure gas’.”
Although the New York Philharmonic met this work’s infamous technical challenges head on and tackled them with impressive assurance, Alan Gilbert’s interpretation was restricted to a limited color palette. The unwavering bright intensity lost its impact in its persistence. The strings were bright and loud even in muted tremolo accompaniment passages. The performance was somewhat redeemed by an exquisitely phrased oboe solo by Liang Wang.
Itzhak Perlman was the soloist in Mendelssohn’s (second) Violin Concerto. Expectations were running high to hear a performing legend. Thus it was somewhat shocking when Perlman widely missed the mark during a couple of exposed passages in the opening. Intonation problems persisted during the faster arpeggios, which he took at break-neck speed, at times rushing ahead of the orchestra. Although it was not a spotless performance, Perlman more than justified his esteemed reputation with his fluid bowing and buttery sound, his violin singing like a human voice. His love of the piece was apparent, the familiar concerto sounded fresh and exciting. Gilbert stepped up to the plate with his leadership. Phrases flowed between soloist and orchestra with sublime nuance. And just when one thought that only the ghost of a legendary performer remained, Perlman showed his worth in the fast paced finale, with nary a fudged note.
Written for the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell, Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles (1965) followed. The piece’s linked movements each feature a different section of the orchestra, with all sections sharing the spotlight in the finale. Solo instruments played through their entire ranges with virtuosic flourishes over dissonant chords. Rhythmic complexities and wandering harmonies took precedence, with no real melody emerging, giving piece a still-contemporary feeling. But the chaotic meandering of the work was ultimately a disappointment, despite the Philharmonic’s assured performance.
Hindemith chose four little-known pieces of Carl Maria von Weber to transform into his stunning Symphonic Metamorphosis. In contrast to the Dutilleux’s nonsensical rambling, Weber’s simple, almost cheesy melodies give the work a backbone from which phrases emerge with precise logic. The Philharmonic’s brass and wind sections were first-rate, displaying a finely apportioned sense of excitement that was not quite matched by the tired-sounding strings.