Orchestra of St. Luke’s/Iván Fischer [Prokofiev & Dvořák symphonies … Nikolaj Znaider plays Tchaikovsky]

Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (Classical)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)

Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Iván Fischer

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 6 April, 2011
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Iván Fischer. Photograph: Budapest Festival OrchestraProkofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony gives a nod towards the symphonies of Haydn (Prokofiev’s favorite composer). Although the lightweight mood of this earlier era is present, the symphony’s novel harmonic changes are pure Prokofiev. Iván Fischer led Orchestra of St. Luke’s in an uninspired rendition. Levity was present, but with little emotional contrast, and it soon became bland. The Larghetto’s scale passages had little in the way of shaping, although the interplay between flute and violins was well executed. The First Violins fell short in the finale, where the jumpy passagework was quite sloppy. Overall, Fischer treated the piece gingerly, with no emphasis given to the intriguing harmonic modulations that are the work’s focal point.

Nikolaj ZnaiderTchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was initially a critical failure, summed up in Eduard Hanslick’s review: “The violin is no longer played; it is tugged about, torn, beaten black and blue … Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto confronts us with the hideous idea that there may be compositions whose stink one can hear.” It is hard to believe that this reaction stems from the same concerto as the one in Nikolaj Znaider’s vanilla performance. His “Kreisler” Guarnerius del Gesù did not sound like an instrument worth its pedigree. His tone was initially strained, and its register was uneven. Certain notes rang out unexpectedly loudly in the opening arpeggio, and a nasty buzz in his instrument’s lower end marred the sforzandos of the finale. Znaider’s technical capacity is impressive, yet he took no risks. His passion for the work was apparent – and at odds with the heavy-handed accompaniment that lagged behind – yet his emotionality was poorly regulated. Znaider gave his all to the first movement’s slow theme much too soon, instead of allowing it to build slowly to its dramatic climax. His shunning of rubato and literal placement of accents sounded machine-like. In the finale, Znaider displayed a modicum of originality by executing the quick runs with more spiccato than one usually hears, yet this added nothing to the interpretation. The orchestra’s heavy articulation seemed particularly mismatched here. In the final moments, Znaider seemed to put much more into the physicality of his movements than translated into sound. However, his violin’s tone was much different in the encore, the ‘Sarabande’ from Bach’s D minor Partita, sensitively nuanced, with a warm tone, large color palette, and relaxed, natural phrasing – a welcome surprise.

Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony captures a grand sense of Slavic-tinged doom. Fischer successfully portrayed this darkness, with the orchestra sounding particularly bottom-heavy. However, the needed intensity was lacking throughout. The violins had imprecise entries and articulations (the strings in particular sounded tired and directionless). Fischer slacked on shaping the phrases. The saving grace was the woodwind soloists’ beautiful playing, with flutist Elizabeth Mann being particularly laudable for her lovely tone.

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