Tannhäuser – Overture
Symphony-Concerto in E-minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op.125
Symphony No.9 in E-minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Alisa Weilerstein (cello)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 23 February, 2023
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
For her New York Philharmonic debut Nathalie Stutzmann opened with a restrained but highly satisfying reading of the Tannhäuser Overture. She downplayed the more tempestuous parts to highlight its finer nuances. The first appearance of the majestic Pilgrim’s Chorus was uncommonly subdued, increasing its innate grandeur, and in the seductive Venusberg music she elicited warm sounds and tender phrases from the strings. The final statement of the Pilgrim’s hymn was more emphatic but not overly-so, infused with just enough spring and bounce to allow the closing crescendo to work its magic.
Prokofiev’s rarely performed Symphony-Concerto started out as a cello concerto. In collaboration with Mstislav Rostropovich, Prokofiev completed the sprawling work, and renamed it to reflect its symphonic scale. While the cello is dominant throughout, the orchestra plays an equal role. Prior to these performances, it had not been performed by the NYP for two decades, the last time with Xavier Phillips, Rostropovich conducting.
Alisa Weilerstein delivered an impassioned, urgently impulsive account, in close partnership with Stutzmann and the Philharmonic. Following an especially warm and lilting opening Andante, the cellist played the long, manic Scherzo with hair-raising virtuosity and, for the Finale, took up another lyrical theme, the basis for variations imbued with a relentless impetus. A vehement coda dominated by high arpeggios on the cello brought this extraordinarily intense interpretation to a conclusion.
Music frequently performed by the Philharmonic, giving its premiere in 1893 under Anton Seidl, followed: Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony. Stutzmann shaped an absorbing account, emphasizing how the composer flavored the first-movement theme, reminiscent of the Afro-American spiritual ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, with the character of his native Bohemia. She took the Largo at an extremely slow tempo, reminding that at its heart is a funeral march; Ryan Roberts delivered the cor anglais solo with melting delicacy and grace. The Scherzo had sparkle and superb rhythmic bite, and there was plenty of excitement in the Finale. It was exhilarating to hear the work performed with such bravado.