New York Philharmonic/Jaap van Zweden – Wagenaar’s Cyrano de Bergerac & Beethoven 7 – Hilary Hahn plays Korngold

Wagenaar
Overture, Cyrano de Bergerac, Op.23
Korngold
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Beethoven
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Hilary Hahn (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Jaap van Zweden


Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 26 November, 2014
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Jaap van Zweden. Photograph: Hans van der WoerdAlthough his music is now rarely heard, Dutchman Johan Wagenaar (1862-1941) was an esteemed composer in his day. His Cyrano de Bergerac Overture of 1905 is a harmonically conservative but melodically exuberant piece. The opening idea, a flourish of upward motion in the violins, has Strauss’s Don Juan as an obvious influence. Wagenaar’s countryman Jaap van Zweden led the New York Philharmonic in an impressive performance. One could easily imagine a cinematic depiction of each section: “Heroism” for the work’s opening, “Love, Poetry” in the lush melody, and “Sense of Humor” regarding the playfully mocking call-and-response between trumpets and violins.

It was a relief to see Hilary Hahn. Having announced in July a six-week-long absence from performing due to an inflamed muscle, her recovery took longer than expected and she was only able to return very recently. Expectations were high, but Hahn quickly managed to dispel any doubt about her technical capabilities.

Hilary Hahn. Photograph: Michael Patrick O'Leary

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto literally is a cinematic piece, with its themes liberally self-borrowed from 1930s’ film scores. The piece is chock-a-block with catchy melodies and pyrotechnics, but Hahn found depth in a work that can often seem trite. She exuded confidence from the start. Smooth bowing, clear articulation, and flawless intonation, to which Hahn added her innate musicality, playing with sincere passion. In the ‘Romance’ slow movement, she created a narrative arch, moving from delicate simplicity to purposeful richness. The jazzy finale was crisp and brilliant. The Philharmonic was sturdy in its accompaniment without stealing the spotlight. As an encore Hahn gave a shining rendition of the ‘Giga’ from J. S. Bach’s E major Partita (BWV1006).

In Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (for Wagner the “apotheosis of the dance”), Jaap van Zweden channeled its driving pulse, the performance fresh and inspired throughout. He geared the balance towards the strings (Van Zweden was concertmaster of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw between 1979 and 1995), a choice that worked marvelously, yet woodwind soloists were also allowed to shine. Oboist Liang Wang certainly did in the Poco sostenuto introduction. The second-movement Allegretto was taken at a brisk pace, and the lower strings had a lovely dark tone that was resonant even in the quietest passages. The scherzo was a study of bipolarity in dynamics and style. Sweetly lilting woodwinds contrasted with military-grade cello attacks, calling to mind that the Symphony’s premiere in 1813 was at a benefit for troops wounded in the Battle of Hanau. Van Zweden’s determined drive carried on to the end and the finale became a war dance.

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