New York Philharmonic/Masur Sergey Khachatryan

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Sergey Khachatryan (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

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

The New York Philharmonic welcomed its former music director, Kurt Masur, for three performances featuring Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan playing Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. On this occasion, the American Friends of the Mendelssohn Foundation honoured Masur, the Foundation’s president, marking his 80th-birthday later this year by establishing the “Kurt Masur Fund” to assist young conductors and musicians in understanding the composer’s music and its performance traditions. Appropriately, the concert began with a work by Mendelssohn.

Masur’s masterful control of the orchestra was manifest from the very start, as the deep resonance of the bassoon and low strings evoked the surging waves of the sea, highlighted by the flutes and shimmering figures on the violins. The string playing was incisive and emphatic, sometimes lyrical, and at other times agitated whilst the winds, horns and trumpets in turn played the melodic material. Toward the overture’s end, a clarinet solo, which the solo horn joined, was played with much tenderness, and then, after some stormy passages, the clarinet was heard again, this time joined by the flute, as the work came to a gentle conclusion.

Khachatryan, making his New York Philharmonic debut, gave the Sibelius concerto a brilliant performance, playing the 1708 “Huggins” Stradivarius which is on loan to him by virtue of his having captured first prize at the 2005 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. Previously, in 2000, the year in which he turned 15, Khachatryan became the youngest winner in the history of the Sibelius Competition in Helsinki.

Khachatryan’s playing was extremely colourful, varying widely in tone and volume and employing considerable rubato. It seemed that he gave virtually every note and phrase a distinctive character, making both the concerto’s melodic passages and its displays of pyrotechnics quite memorable. He began the Allegro moderato by playing the haunting opening theme with a sweet, singing tone, starting extremely softly and building volume gradually through dark and moody passages played against the orchestra’s low winds and strings, and then exhibiting great virtuosity in the solo that preceded the first big tutti passage, which featured a bassoon solo over cello tremolos. Khachatryan also introduced the movement’s second subject softly and slowly, contrasting with the orchestra’s low winds, cellos pizzicato, and string tremolos, then increasing in volume and tempo to an extended trill, and his playing of the cadenza was both expressive and technically masterful.

After the opening of the Adagio molto second movement, led by the clarinet and then the oboe and flute, Khachatryan maintained the work’s melancholic atmosphere, playing slowly and moodily with a rich tone, and then again showing off his proficiency at tackling rapid scales and arpeggios. The pyrotechnics were in even greater profusion in the concluding Allegro ma non tanto, and Khachatryan’s playing brought a sense of color and ornamentation to the movement’s rhythmic complexities.

This was the second time this season that Masur had conducted Sibelius’s concerto in New York; just three months ago, he led the London Philharmonic with Sarah Chang as soloist. On this occasion, he had the New York musicians exhibiting their finest form, both collectively in the tutti passages and in individual solo turns. His collaboration with Khachatryan was an unqualified success.

Following the interval, Masur gave a remarkable reading of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ Symphony. He evoked from the orchestra a performance of incredible clarity, in which every instrumental voice could be heard distinctly and in precisely correct balance. This gave the feeling that one was hearing and appreciating subtleties and details in this familiar piece as never before.

The opening Adagio passage featured low strings and a bassoon solo by principal Judith LeClair, whose outstanding playing was prominent in all three works on this programme. All of the strings performed brilliantly, with the violas standing out especially, as the movement progressed through numerous tempo changes. The winds, too, contributed excellently, with notable clarinet solos coming before a sudden, loud and dramatic mid-movement chord and ensuing fugato passage and then, with much rubato, toward the movement’s end. Masur kept the brass subdued in the first half of the movement, but once unleashed it was equally sensational both when at the forefront and when playing counter-melodies, not only in this movement, but also in the stirring third. As is the Philharmonic’s longstanding practice, there were four trumpets rather than the two called for in the score, greatly increasing their impact.

The second movement, Allegro con grazia, with its uncommon five-four meter, was played beguilingly, with Masur at times nearly dancing on the podium. In the pizzicato passages, the strings played with great precision, allowing their melodic line to shine through with clarity. Masur launched into the Allegro molto vivace third movement at a very rapid tempo, yet it seemed natural and unhurried, and did not interfere with his ability to build the movement to its exciting conclusion. He started the finale, Adagio lamentoso, soon enough to keep premature applause to a minimum, rendering its opening theme with extreme beauty and tenderness. Here again, a prominent bassoon solo was touchingly played. As the movement progressed, Masur seemed to caress the theme in the strings, as the horns beautifully provided countermelody. When the movement finally faded away, the audience was gripped by the solemnity of the moment, maintaining a long and respectful silence before showering Masur and the orchestra with prolonged plaudits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content