New York Philharmonic/Maazel Anne-Sophie Mutter

Beethoven
Leonore No.3 – Overture, Op.72b
Berg
Violin Concerto
Stravinsky
The Song of the Nightingale
Ravel
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2

Anne Sophie-Mutter

New York Philharmonic
Lorin Maazel


Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 28 April, 2007
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

“Fidelio”, Beethoven’s only opera, a re-writing of “Leonore” is a ‘rescue opera’ in that the heroine, Leonore (who disguises herself as a man and assumes the name Fidelio), rescues Florestan, her falsely accused husband, from prison. In revising the opera, Beethoven added to the overtures. Leonore No.3, more a symphonic poem, has such a powerful emotional impact that Beethoven feared would diminish the emotional firepower of the opera itself. (Hence the slighter “Fidelio” overture.) From the solemn opening of descending octaves to the melody of Florestan’s second act dungeon lament to the offstage trumpet fanfares, the New York Philharmonic played with heightened awareness that two lives (Leonore and Florestan) were so involved with each other that their mutual love would conquer all. And it does. The orchestra beautifully brought forth Beethoven’s vision of freedom, equality, and fraternity, Lorin Maazel handling all the emotional imagery of the music with sensitivity and grace and, where necessary, with unbridled flamboyance.

Alban Berg was working on “Lulu”, his second and final opera (“Wozzeck” was his first), when the Boston violinist Louis Krasner asked him to compose a concerto, a request that Berg declined. However, a few months later, the composer received the distressing news of the death of Manon Gropius, the daughter of Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler, after a lengthy heroic battle against infantile paralysis, Berg wrote his Violin Concerto as a memorial to her, which Krasner premiered. Sensuality is evident in this concerto, admirably interpreted by Anne-Sophie Mutter. She brought dexterity to the concertos four sections (arranged in two movements). Berg’s integration of serialism and tonality in this score was made lucid by the soloist’s vivid and heart-felt rendering of the work. Maazel, himself a violinist and a composer, kept a fine equilibrium between soloist and orchestra. The latter shined, whether in Berg’s use of folk-music and in the quotation of Bach’s chorale “Es ist genug!” (It is enough!). At the end of the chorale, the solo violin ascends while the orchestral strings descend, thus sounding the tension of feelings inherent in the work.

Stravinsky’s opera “The Nightingale” was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, a parable of the power of music to vanquish death. From the opera came the material for Stravinsky’s orchestral The Song of the Nightingale. The nightingale’s song proves more powerful and medicinal than that of the mechanical nightingale, given as a gift to the Emperor of China by the Emperor of Japan. During the ‘Chinese March’ section of the piece, a solo flute and later a solo violin represent the real nightingale. The bird’s elaborate cadenza brings tears to the Chinese emperor’s eyes. A solo oboe introduces the mechanical nightingale. Feeling offended at the thought of being replaced by a mechanical bird, the real bird flies away. Only the real nightingale’s song is capable of releasing the Emperor from Death’s grip; even Death is beguiled by the bird’s singing. The Emperor survives. Maazel’s conducting kept all the nuances of the work in place and was graced by superb playing.

Daphnis et Chloé, Ravel’s largest work, was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev and produced by his Ballets Russes, is based on the pastoral drama attributed to the 4th-century Greek sophist, Longus. Suite No. 2 begins with ‘Daybreak’, an evocation of a sunrise, brilliantly delivered by the orchestra, whose gorgeous sonorities conveyed an affirmation of confidence and a future together for the two protagonists. In ‘Pantomime’, Daphnis and Chloé mime the adventures of the god Pan and his beloved nymph Syrinx, all to a wonderfully played steamy flute solo. In the concluding ‘General Dance’, a dizzying 5/4 meter is employed, and the full resources of the orchestra creating the joys of physical love. The orchestra played with a full palette of joyous sound and color, all ably held together by the efficient and nimble conducting of Lorin Maazel.

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