New York Philharmonic/Maazel Julian Rachlin

Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36
Violin Concerto No.3 in B minor, Op.61
Concerto for Orchestra

Julian Rachlin (violin)

New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 26 May, 2007
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

The slow opening introduction by all the woodwinds of “The Bright Holiday,” the Russian folk name for Easter and Rimsky- Korsakov’s actual Russian title for the Overture, is the main theme of the work. The woodwinds in solemn unison call up Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s resurrection. The trombones majestically follow with the tuba adding dark color. The composer used melodies from the Obikhod, a group of Greek Orthodox canticles, to convey Christian ritual with a pagan past. The New York Philharmonic brilliantly communicated the various moods the composer intended, from exaltation to mystery and solemnity. Glenn Dicterow, the Philharmonic’s Concertmaster, played the piece’s violin solos with sensitivity. Carter Brey, principal cellist, played with both power and moderation. The composer felt that to truly feel and understand this work, one had to attend an Easter service beforehand. Lorin Maazel and the orchestra brought the Russian Easter service to the audience in a way that captured both its nuances and outright vitality.

Julian RachlinShimmering strings introduced Saint-Saëns’s B minor Violin Concerto. Julian Rachlin played his first bars with verve and finesse. There was much heavy bowing by the soloist during the piece, perhaps a bit overdone at times, but generally effective. The Allegro section had the trumpets and trombones at full range and ended with sublime string playing. The second movement was of different tone and mood, much more melancholic. Many of the passages were downright beautiful with the soloist in a back and forth dance with the flutes and their bird-like emanations. Rachlin’s less insistent bowing was perfect for his interactions with the oboes. The finale invoked much tension brought about by intense and incisive bowing from Rachlin and the Philharmonic’s strings. The flute crescendos were performed with both ease and emotive power. The soloist’s clarity was particularly evident and Maazel conducted with constraint when needed and with passion when necessary.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra has become his best-known large-scale work. The score is in five movements. Whereas a traditional concerto juxtaposes a solo instrument with an orchestra, this concerto – the first of its kind – does not. Instead, it treats individual orchestral instruments in a soloistic manner, especially in the second movement, ‘Game of Couples’ whereby pairs of wind instruments and trumpets play in turn, admirably brought off in this performance with lovely, clear and precise playing. The ‘Introduction’ to the whole work had featured sullen sounds from the double basses followed by tremulous violins ending with alacrity in the clarinets and power from the trombones. The various tempos and emotions evident in the first movement proper were brought forth in a most convincing manner. Bartók described the third section ‘Elegy’ as a “lugubrious death-song”. The opening low strings effectively related to the opening of the first movement. During this movement, the violins built up in pitch while clarinet and flute runs added moments of emotional uncertainty. The fourth movement, ‘Interrupted Intermezzo’, had the violas and double basses playing slow and lush measures of music that are swept aside by ‘rude’ trombones poking fun at Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony. The exhilarating finale is, like the first movement, in varied sections and opened with eye-popping brass and timpani. The harps and flutes added color. The conclusion was a masterpiece of extraordinary brilliance, even for Bartók. The Philharmonic, whether as a whole or as soloists, performed with intensity and nuance, Maazel never letting the emotional impact of the work get out of hand yet giving free rein to the musicians as appropriate.

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