Symphony No.31 in D, K297 (Paris)
Scottish Fantasy, Op.46
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Joshua Bell (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 8 April, 2010
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Mozart achieved a coup by garnering the commission of a new symphony, his first in three and a half years, by the Concert Spirituel of Paris. Though he was utterly disappointed by a disastrous rehearsal, the premiere of the ‘Paris’ Symphony apparently went quite well, with the audience interrupting the performance with bursts of applause and shouts of “Da capo”. The audience was more subdued at the New York Philharmonic’s performance. The reduced string section sounded large enough when it needed to, yet it never overwhelmed the finely nuanced wind solos. The buoyant performance provided the best that could be expected of one of Mozart’s less substantial symphonies.
Joshua Bell’s violin-playing was ideally suited for Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, a Romantic showpiece. His fast vibrato, liberal use of glissando, and singing tone were reminiscent of an earlier generation of violinists. Bell never lost sight of the work’s lyrical nature, no matter how many how many frilly runs interrupted the phrasing. Bell is at his best when he can exhibit his Stradivarius in its highest rang, playing fortissimo with a passionate intensity that validates his extreme popularity with his fans. The piece provided him with plenty of opportunities to play his heart out and please them. Scottish Fantasy employs adaptations of various Scottish folk-tunes. It is a piece meant to flaunt a violinist’s range of technique (the fast bow strokes needed to play the finale’s triple-stopped passages perhaps led to work’s infamous nickname: “Scratch Frantically”). The role of the orchestra is more perfunctory. The Philharmonic matched Bell’s passionate expression and richness of tone.
Antonio Pappano began the Brahms with a relaxed tempo. The strings sounded warm and full, but the articulation was mushy. There were frequent occurrences of amateurishly imprecise wind section entries, although individual wind soloists were commendable, particularly oboist Liang Wang. Ensemble was at its weakest in the second movement, with disappointingly sloppy horn playing; Pappano allowed phrases little sense of air. The lush strings sounded lovely in the intense louder passages, but were not allowed to breathe in the calmer sections. The scherzo required less in the way of relaxation, and here the orchestra was at its best, the strings glorious in their heaviness. The passacaglia finale was less successful. There was no sense of lightness in the opening wind solos. Again, horn solos were notably sloppy. Although the work ended in passionate excitement, the symphony ideally should be a wonderful display of contrasting emotions, but Pappano seemed to be the master of too few of them.