Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst in New York – Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony – Frank Peter Zimmermann plays Berg

Berg
Violin Concerto
Bruckner
Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [1888 version, edited by Benjamin Korstvedt]

Franz Peter Zimmermann (violin)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst


Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 3 March, 2013
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

In 1935 Alban Berg accepted a commission from the American violinist Louis Krasner to write a concerto. He was also working on his opera Lulu. But when Manon Gropius, the daughter of Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler (the widow of the composer) died, Berg focused on the concerto, dedicating it “to the memory of an angel”. Its premiere in 1936 was a few months after he died.

Frank Peter Zimmermann. Photograph: Franz HammFrank Peter Zimmermann graced the work with beautiful tone and expressive lyricism. Although sometimes buried by the orchestra, he negotiated the intricate and challenging technical passages without making them appear artful. Zimmermann’s overall approach was introspective. The second movement opens with an outburst of grief out of which the soloist pours tortuous chromatic figuration, intermittently slashed with orchestral strokes. At the beginning of the final Adagio section woodwinds quoting J. S. Bach seem to say a prayer for the dead child. At the end a soft dissonant chord in woodwinds generates an aural glow as violins and then double basses play a brief statement of the work’s tone row “as if from a distance” (as marked in the score). We were left in silence without resolution or relief. As an encore Zimmermann offered a sinuously expressive Adagio from Bach’s Sonata in C (BWV1005).

Bruckner’s ‘Romantic’ Symphony was given in an edition (2004) by American musicologist Benjamin Korstvedt. One of the Austrian composer’s most popular pieces, the Fourth went through several revisions through to 1888, and was thereafter subjected to further revisions in critical editions by Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak. Korstvedt showed that the 1888 version of the score edited by Hans Redlich was spurious, further contending that Bruckner was hardly the insecure and diffident composer he was portrayed by some to have been as well as willing to be manipulated by others.

Franz Welser-Möst. Photograph: Harald SchneiderThe Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra played with brilliant and vibrant tone, remarkable precision, vivacious intensity and an impressive combination of delicate pianissimos and full-blown fortissimos. Franz Welser-Möst has built a rapport with the VPO that enables him to elicit seamless structures, perfectly graduated crescendos, and firm but never stiff tempos. This was a masterful performance. From the nearly inaudible violins’ tremolos that set the stage for the horn’s statement of the first movement’s principal theme to the build-up that ushers in its full-blown assertion at the end, the orchestra gave a virtually flawless performance to complement Welser-Möst’s perfect pacing, generating tension without imposing excessive speed and combining formidable power with lilting lyricism. Impassioned playing from violas and cellos graced the Andante, Welser-Möst capturing the grand sweep without affectation. The hunting horns that open the scherzo were bright and vibrant. Woodwinds engendered a sweet lilt to the trio theme. Mention should be made of the excellent principal horn, Ronald Janezic, who was especially impressive when playing at a mere whisper. Joined by his colleagues they created a wonderful sound at full throttle – rich and resolute and not only at the beginning of the finale in which strings captured the tenderness of the subordinate theme. The only problematic passage occurred just before the coda when scraps of thematic material were presented in isolation, maybe a cause of editorial tinkering. The performance as a whole was a smashing success.

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