Mother Goose – Suite
The Miraculous Mandarin – Suite
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: David Gutman
Reviewed: 29 August, 2008
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
A capacity house, a great orchestra, no television lights and no clapping between movements. If conditions seemed ideal, the results were less so.
It is not easy to say why, but Lorin Maazel’s latter-day appearances do sometimes disappoint. Indisputably among the most distinguished musicians on the international scene, his intellectual reach and technical ability ought to put him at the very top of the heap. To see him wield his long stick is a privilege in itself, a throwback to the disciplined maestros of the Fritz Reiner era. That said, sophistication is not the same as inspiration.
Ravel’s Mother Goose, employing suitably reduced forces, was friskily paced and enunciated with care yet it didn’t work at all, a prosaic display without emotive force or Gallic finesse. While Maazel’s tempos were slower (than the norm) in The Miraculous Mandarin, his dispassionate approach seemed odder still. Never mind Solti; even Pierre Boulez injects more fire and tension into its climactic scene. There was some characterful Harlem sleaze from the brass, probably not to all tastes. The conductor directed this very score at a Cleveland Orchestra Prom in 1975; so he must like it.
The second half of the evening was more successful. Maazel is a Tchaikovsky specialist who has made at least three commercial recordings of the Fourth Symphony and his reading did catch fire in the third and fourth movements. He obtained quite wonderful, full-toned orchestral playing throughout from a band that still contains many famous and long-serving names, not least clarinettist Stanley Drucker (nearly 60 years at his desk!). The second movement was intriguing too, unusually dark and regretful. The (very loud) Fate theme made a big impression every time – it was paced deliberately but not so as to disrupt proceedings. At the very least this was the sort of interpretation that does not spoil you for others.
There followed a generous quota of extras: a Dvořák Slavonic Dance (the first of the Opus 72 set), a Brahms Hungarian Dance (No.1) and the ‘Farandole’ from Bizet’s music for L’Arlésienne. Excepting the new Steven Stucky piece and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto played the night before, the absence of Americana was a puzzle, boosting the curiously old-fashioned impression made by the concert as a whole. The encores were dispatched with abundant panache and glamour, virile in the quicker sections, more inclined to score points in sedate passages.
On this evidence Maazel has been an expert curator of the New York Philharmonic tradition. Time now for a rejuvenating hand to bring more than professionalism and decibels.