Mussorgsky, arr. & orch. Rimsky-Korsakov
Night on Bald Mountain
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.99
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Andrew Farach-Colton
Reviewed: 14 May, 2009
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Esa-Pekka Salonen who was slated to conduct this, the first of a pair of New York Philharmonic subscription concerts, had to cancel because of back trouble. David Zinman stepped on short notice, revising the scheduled programme. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain replaced Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, and the First Violin Concerto of Shostakovich was substituted for Szymanowski’s.
Zinman opted to use Rimsky-Korsakov’s tried-and-true edition of Mussorgsky’s tone poem – a pity, really, as Mussorgsky’s original is considerably more engrossing. Still, Zinman made a compelling case for Rimsky’s edition. He emphasized clear articulation and incisive rhythms to produce a finely chiseled texture. The result sounded remarkably Stravinskian, a close ancestor to The Firebird.
It surely would have been a treat to hear Christian Tetzlaff play Szymanowski, but his Shostakovich performance left one with no regrets. Tetzlaff organized the first movement’s long, discursive lines into cogent paragraphs. His tone in the central section, where the violin is muted, was pale as moonlight. The ‘Scherzo’ had a manic character – almost a little too fast to have sufficient bite – but the ‘Passacaglia’ hit especially hard. As the variations gradually piled up, Tetzlaff allowed more and more rawness into his sound, conveying a sense of increasing pain and despair. The ‘Burlesque’ finale was also a marvel; Tetzlaff and Zinman played it as a feverish danse macabre, and here the bite seemed forceful enough to bruise. Tetzlaff responded to an enthusiastic ovation with a supple, beautifully shaded rendering of the ‘Sarabande’ from Bach’s D minor Partita, BWV 1004.
Following his angular, modernist account of Night on Bald Mountain, Zinman’s Sibelius’s Fifth was unexpectedly lyrical. He took the first movement at a leisurely pace, allowing the various ideas to flower; one got the impression that this was a symphony that longed to burst into song. The tricky transition to the Allegro section was ideally judged so that the transformation seemed at once natural and inevitable.
In the middle movement, Zinman made a pointed distinction between the phrases that are cool and those that have more heat and passion, which brought an element of playfulness to the music. The finale went at a good clip, and with extremely alert playing from the Philharmonic strings, there was an invigorating sense of motion and whizzing air, as if one were sledding down a snowy hillside. Only the very end dissatisfied; Zinman appeared impatient in those strange, wondrous silences (perhaps he was afraid the audience would burst into applause, as it did after the second movement of the Shostakovich), and the final cadence could have been more emphatic. This can be easily forgiven, as Zinman’s interpretation was so full of fresh ideas, and communicated a true feeling of joyful discovery.