Philadelphia Orchestra/Nathalie Stutzmann in West Palm Beach — Brahms’s First Symphony and, with Gil Shaham, Violin Concerto

Brahms

Violin Concerto in D, Op.77

Symphony No.1 in C-minor, Op.68

Gil Shaham (violin)

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Nathalie Stutzmann


Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 13 February, 2023
Venue: Dreyfoos Concert Hall, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida

In this first of two concerts at the Kravis Center, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Nathalie Stutzmann played Brahms.

Following the Violin Concerto’s powerful introduction, which featured fine oboe and bassoon solos, Gil Shaham masterfully traversed the violin’s first entry. He engaged in delightful conversations with the violas and later with horn and various groupings of winds, and he gave the lyrical second theme a dance-like feeling. The strings offered superbly executed pizzicatos, tremolos and bouncing bows to accompany the soloist’s lengthy runs and arpeggio sequences, and Stutzmann took the tutti passages forcefully, with the brass quite prominent. Toward the movement’s end, Shaham performed Joachim’s cadenza with amazing virtuosity, finally joined by the orchestra’s soft accompaniment to the soloist’s gentle return to the principal theme. Philippe Tondre’s oboe solo set a gorgeous, lyrical tone for the Adagio, with Shaham showing great depth of feeling. Jennifer Montone’s intermittent horn calls, along with interjections from winds and low strings, provided fine accompaniments to the violin. After little more than a breath, Shaham and Stutzmann attacked the Finale, joyfully relishing the spirit of the Gypsy-influenced tune.

Like most other composers of his era, Brahms was intimidated by the perceived shadow cast by Beethoven’s Symphonies. Brahms’s First Symphony has been called “Beethoven’s Tenth”. Powerful beats on Don Liuzzi’s timpani launched the Symphony, with a lovely passage on the cellos leading into the Allegro exposition. The statement of the principal theme released tension that Stutzmann and the orchestra had built up, with Montone’s horn solos and a calm, oboe-initiated second theme rounding out the exposition, not repeated. Eschewing the repeat. After propelling forward, the music softened to pianissimo, with Liuzzi’s dynamically nuanced drumrolls adding to the mysterious atmosphere. Stutzmann engineered huge buildups in the transitions leading to both the recapitulation and coda, and then steered to a soft landing. Lush first violins and winds began the Adagio, with Tondre’s oboe and Ricardo Morales’s clarinet offering excellent solos. Stutzmann kept the music breathing with well-timed pauses and subtle tweaks of tempo while carefully maintaining dynamic balances. The gently flowing Allegretto third movement began with Morales’s lovely clarinet solos. Stutzmann shaped a mysterious aura from the strong timpani beats and accelerating pizzicatos of the Finale’s opening measures. A horn call, echoed by Jeffrey Khaner on flute, and the appearance for the first time of trombones in a hymn-like passage set the stage for the emergence of the movement’s main idea. The strings sang out gloriously with this melody, and when it recurs in the development it was broader and with increased prominence of cellos, bassoons and horns. Stutzmann pulled out all the stops in the coda to power the Symphony to a triumphant conclusion.

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