Mussorgsky, orch. Rimsky-Korsakov
Khovanshchina – Prelude
Violin Concerto in B minor
Pavane pour une infante défunte
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an exhibition
Gil Shaham (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 16 June, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
With Ludovic Morlot conducting the New York Philharmonic, Gil Shaham gave a glowing performance of William Walton’s Violin Concerto. Shaham has been engaged for some time in an exploration of violin concertos composed in the 1930s. One of the finest of these is Walton’s, completed in 1939 (revised in 1943 and again in 1950). Writing on a commission from Jascha Heifetz, Walton provided both technical challenges and dreamy lyrical passages for the soloist in a score that blends romanticism and modernism. Shaham’s performance of the concerto, although enjoyable, was stronger in virtuosic passagework than in the more melodic segments.
The concert had opened operatically. After Mussorgsky’s death in 1881 at age forty-two, his colleague Rimsky-Korsakov completed several unfinished Mussorgsky scores. Among these was the opera Khovanshchina. Its Prelude (also orchestrated by Shostakovich) begins beautifully on violas and solo flute, and shimmering violin tremolos conjure up the image of the sun rising over the Moscow River, with solos from each of the principal winds adding color along the way. Unfortunately, the Philharmonic’s playing was ragged at times, making this performance less than a total success.
Following the interval, Morlot evoked the orchestra’s best playing of the evening in a sumptuous performance of Ravel’s Pavane. Stewart Rose’s opening horn solo introduced the familiar theme lovingly, and there was fine playing by the wind section and then the sighing strings, creating a lush and sensuous atmosphere. Also noteworthy was harpist Nancy Allen’s playing. The concert ended with an uneven performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition. Ravel’s orchestration provides many opportunities for soloists to shine, and among the most notable were saxophonist Albert Regni in ‘The Old Castle’ and trumpeter Philip Smith in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’. Morlot did well in bringing out the differences among the various appearances of the ‘Promenade’ theme, but whatever electricity there was was scattered and insufficient. Even that grandest of grand finales, ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, came across as more bombastic than emotionally powerful.