Vienna Philharmonic/Barenboim in New York – 3

Schumann
Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120 [Revised Version, 1851]
Wagner
Tannhäuser – Overture
Götterdämmerung – Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funeral Music
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act One

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim


Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 4 March, 2007
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

The third and final Carnegie Hall concert from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim.

Prior to his marriage to Clara Wieck in 1840, Robert Schumann wrote only for the piano, but a sea-change in his composing occurred after his marriage. He then composed very little for piano – even though his wife was one of the finest pianists of her day. Schumann proceeded to write over 100 songs in 1840, some orchestral works in 1841, and chamber music in 1842. Schumann wrote his ‘Spring’ and D minor symphonies in 1841, but after its unsuccessful premiere, he put it aside for 10 years, during which time he composed his Second and Third Symphonies. Because there were so many changes in the revision, the symphony has been numbered the Fourth. The movements, following standard symphonic structure, are played without any discernible breaks.

From the opening notes of the slow, reflective introduction to the rousing finale, Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic were in complete synchronization with each other. The power that the trombones, horns, and strings exhibited in the first and fourth movements was elicited by a conductor and musicians totally at home with the music: the emotions pouring forth washed over the concert hall. In the second movement, ‘Romanze’, oboes and cellos deftly brought forth a sorrowful melody. The scherzo had many moments of potent force, admirably conveyed.

Such meritorious conducting and musicianship continued throughout the Wagner second half of the program. The Overture to “Tannhäuser”, Wagner’s most sensual opera, gives us the opera in miniature, in that the Overture is based on four main episodes of the music drama: the Pilgrims’ Chorus, the enticing music of the Venusberg (where the Goddess of Love lived), Tannhäuser’s ardent glorification of Venus, and the dark music of the Landgrave (the ruler of Thuringia, the setting for the opera). This performance was arousing and noble. It stirred the emotions and brought forth the lyric poet’s essence: his battles with inviolable and irreverent love and salvation through love.

“Götterdämmerung” is the last of the four music-dramas that comprise the ‘Ring’ Cycle. ‘Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ appear at the end of the ‘Prologue’, the ‘Rhine Journey’ being the conduit to Act One. The evocation of Siegfried and Brünnhilde emerging together from their cave to greet the dawn was beautifully portrayed by the orchestra as was its treatment of the Rhine Journey music, in which many of the leitmotifs of the ‘Ring’ appear. In Act Three, Siegfried is murdered by Hagen; the funeral procession follows. The orchestra’s playing of ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’ captured all the music’s grandness, gruffness, and emotive power.

The Prelude to ‘The Mastersingers’ brought a splendid afternoon of music, musicianship and conducting to an unwanted end. “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” is unique in Wagner’s oeuvre, being his only comedy among his mature operas. A complete musical summary of the story is given in the ‘Prelude’. The orchestra’s masterful playing and the conductor’s consummate skill brought alive the particulars of the opera. The huge culmination of the Prelude was played to perfection.

The orchestra played two encores: Sibelius’s Valse triste and Johann Strauss II’s Thunder and Lightning Polka.

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