New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur – Brahms Symphonies 3 & 4

Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

New York Philharmonic
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 15 November, 2012
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Kurt Masur. Photograph: Radio France/Christophe AbramowitzKurt Masur led the New York Philharmonic, of which he is Music Director Emeritus, in the second of two Brahms programs. Masur remained at stage level with a protective railing beside and behind him. Although he walked slowly, he did not appear frail, and he conducted with ample energy. The audience demonstrated continuing affection for Masur, and the Philharmonic’s intense and engaged playing reflected the musicians’ continuing respect for their former music director.

Masur’s reading of the Third Symphony brought out its genial character, with each of its four movements coming to a calmly restful ending. As the first movement began, the strings were warm and precise in tone, their upsweeping figures leading to the grazioso second subject, introduced with rustic charm on clarinet and then taken up by the violas and later intoned beautifully by the cellos. Philip Myers’s gorgeous horn solo heralded the return of the main theme as the development section began, and in the extended coda Masur managed perfectly the transition from driving brasses, winds and timpani to the soft final bars. The middle movements provided contrast, the Andante a sunny serenade with evocative contributions from Mark Nuccio on clarinet and Judith LeClair on bassoon, and Myers’s burnished horn solos and the sweeping strings giving the Allegretto a romantic aura, punctuated by outstanding wind-playing. Masur began the finale at a lively, rhythmic pace without sacrificing its dark and mysterious character. After gentle winds developed the principal theme, a chorale of brasses and winds made a powerful statement. Then, in the beautifully played coda, muted violas steered the work toward its peaceful conclusion, the return of the symphony’s opening theme providing a sense of closure.

In the Fourth Symphony, Masur’s interpretation was gripping from start to finish and the orchestra was in peak form. String tones were sweet and the winds were warm and cheerful, sometimes feeling like a country band, and trumpet fanfares were suitably delicate. As the opening movement built in tension, timpani rolls added an air of inscrutability that yielded to strong interjections from the horn. Masur’s rhythmic sense was unfailingly accurate, especially in syncopated passages. Myers’s horn solo, precise and forceful, got the Andante off to a bright and resonant start, and the woodwinds acquitted themselves well, moving the theme along at a measured pace. When the strings asserted themselves, the prayer-like effect was stunning. The scherzo was imbued with a sense of fun, highlighted by Mindy Kaufman’s piccolo and Daniel Druckman’s energetic triangle solos. Masur brought requisite energy and passion to the finale. Three trombones, silent bystanders up until now, weighed-in to shore up the passacaglia subject on which Brahms’s constructed thirty variations, cleverly superimposing them onto the movement’s underlying sonata form. Robert Langevin’s fine flute solo and Nuccio’s clarinet stood out, as did a variation for brass. The drive to the finish was terrific.

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