Philadelphia Orchestra in New York

Shostakovich
Violin Concerto No.2 in C sharp minor, Op.129
Mahler
Symphony No.1 in D

Gidon Kremer (violin)

Philadelphia Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 4 May, 2004
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

Shortly before embarking of their European tour, Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra presented New York concertgoers with “Maturity and Youth”, a program pairing Shostakovich’s rarely performed Violin Concerto No.2 with Mahler’s much more frequently aired Symphony No.1. The Shostakovich fared especially well, with Eschenbach and the Philadelphia players proving to be the perfect partners for Gidon Kremer.

Shostakovich’s concerto was written in 1967, twenty years after the better-known No.1. The composer wrote the Second as a gift to David Oistrakh for his sixtieth birthday, but he miscalculated the violinist’s age and presented it to him on his fifty-ninth birthday. Although less familiar than its predecessor, the Second Concerto is absolutely top-drawer Shostakovich, replete with evidence of the composer’s inventive powers. In contrast to the broad expressive spectrum of the First Concerto, the Second is more traditional and characterized by a profound introspective simplicity.

Gidon Kremer gave a passionate, totally committed performance, which penetrated the unadorned essence of the work. Kremer’s brooding intensity, both at the opening of the Moderato and in the Adagio were especially memorable, as was his absolutely dazzling playing in the fiendish cadenza of the third movement. Kremer’s totally concentrated reading of the work was matched by that of Eschenbach and the orchestra, who provided impressive and intense support throughout the piece. This was a hauntingly beautiful performance.

Conducting Mahler’s First Symphony from memory, Eschenbach drew some superb playing from the orchestra. The string playing was wonderfully warm, and the response from the horns was most atmospheric. There were many moments to cherish, not least the exceptionally limber and nuanced solo from the double bass at the beginning of the third movement and the splendid playing of the woodwinds and trumpets in the same movement. One of the most noticeable things about this performance was its transparency. Each linear thread of the orchestral counterpoint was exceptionally clear, and all the elements were wonderfully balanced. Eschenbach occasionally exaggerated dotted rhythms and speed changes, most noticeably in the Ländler, which at times sounded somewhat heavy and slow, but the power of the work as a whole was evident throughout. The finale was done with superb panache, and in many ways this performance was compelling and satisfying.

This performance of Mahler’s First at Carnegie Hall was an appendage to “Mahler’s World”, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s four-week festival held in Philadelphia this past March and April. That festival marked the beginning of a five-year cycle of Mahler’s nine completed symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde, which will serve as the orchestra’s first presentation of the symphonies as a cycle.

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