Tragic Overture, Op.81
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 3 October, 2010
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Gustavo Dudamel took Brahms’s Tragic Overture at a rather slow tempo, but the pacing was by no means a detriment to his dramatic yet thoughtful interpretation. In this piece, and throughout the concert, the balance was skewed to highlight the Vienna Philharmonic’s glorious string section. The violins played as if they were a cloned group of soloists, with plenty of excitement but also with unity of articulation and tone. The heavy accents of the stabbing motifs had an appropriate sense of awkwardness, complimenting the dark emotional nature of the work.
Yo-Yo Ma was an excellent match for Dudamel. Ma’s passionate emotionality was unbounded, and he maximized all expressive possibilities in Schumann’s Cello Concerto. His warm tone was consistent throughout his instrument’s range, with an intensity that never grew too heavy or flashy for this introspective work. His phrasing was exquisitely timed, and dialogues with the orchestra seemed as natural as spoken language. The orchestra was subtle in its accompaniment, and principal cellist Franz Bartolomey’s duet with Ma was heart-breaking in its beautiful tenderness. Ma gestured that his encore was dedicated to Bartolomey, the ‘Prelude’ from Bach’s Suite in G (BWV1007) was romantic in nature yet remained within stylistically appropriate boundaries, and was deeply satisfying.
Dvořák ‘New World’ Symphony demonstrates the composer’s fascination with indigenous American melodies and spirituals, aiming to create original thematic material that sounded stylistically ‘American’, and he even had a direct link to jazz musicians, having been the teacher of Rubin Goldmark (nephew of Karl, he of Rustic Wedding Symphony), who then taught George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.
The Vienna Philharmonic tackled the piece with impressive physicality, and occasionally a whole section of strings would move forward in time with the articulated accents. Dudamel strictly regimented the brass section’s volume, and when it was finally allowed to play full force, at the end of the first movement’s development section, the effect was highly climatic. Dudamel’s only interpretative flaw was his over-emphasis on precision in rhythmic detail. The relaxed second theme of the first movement and the main theme of the Largo were taken at an overly slow tempo, and their studied nature felt stilted and too classical for American-style syncopation. The second movement’s English horn solo was lovely in tonal quality, though, but the movement as a whole was dull, like beautiful wallpaper.
Interest perked during the driving scherzo, when the machine-like rhythmic precision became an asset. The dynamic range was carefully studied, with the end of the movement achieving a previously unheard loudness. The dynamical changes in the finale were positively explosive, as if Dudamel had been plugged into an electrical outlet and the string tremolo towards the end had an intensity that validated the section’s reputation as one of the finest in the world.