Review: The New York Philharmonic Brings the Standards

It has to end at some point.

Over the past month, the New York Philharmonic has been a source of unexpected novelty: premieres, unique shows, first orchestral performances of works by Eastman, Kodaly and Martinu. But last week, Strauss’ rare “Brentano-Lieder” was followed by a familiar escalation in the form of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

And now come a program (although the brief introduction from Erwin Schulhoff is underrated) about the old writings of Mendelssohn and Dvorak was most recently heard here in 2019 – which the pandemic ended, possibly in. last year. Fortunately, there are few conductors as reliable in the standard repertoire as Manfred Honeck, who conducted the Philharmonic on Thursday at the Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Czech-born Schulhoff crossed paths with the likes of Dvorak and Debussy before embarking on a promising but severed career: first blacklisted by the Nazis, then his death, at the age of 48, in the Wülzberg concentration camp. His Five Pieces for String Quartet, from 1923, is a modern treatment of a Baroque set, with each movement inspired by a particular dance style. The chamber scale of the work coming to the Philharmonic was changed, in arrangements for the entire orchestra by Honeck and Thomas Ille, who have also collaborated in symphony ensembles from operas such as “Jenufa” and “Rusalka.”

All arrangements are interpretive acts, and here Schulhoff’s humor is lost along the way. With loud brass sounds and percussion added right from the start, these Five Pieces are less playful and more Mahlerian – witty and sarcastic, but with high martial arts skills. Once heavily imprinted with Debussia, the Czech third movement is a dark memory of Dvorak. In the tango that followed, what was previously implied in terms of rhythm became literal in the odd-Spanish cast, and the ending tarantella took itself too seriously.

There’s nothing wrong with installation, an art form in itself. But this made Schulhoff feel like a missed opportunity. Among the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic is that orchestral programming doesn’t need to be formulaic, but a string quartet can easily share the stage with a symphony. And Schulhoff – often underrepresented, especially in Philharmonic subscription concerts – would benefit from advocating for music that is truly his.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E teenager is a popular ritual among violinists, and on Thursday it was the vehicle for Ray Chen’s Philharmonic premiere. Charismatic and expressive, he takes on the business as a Romantic hero while Honeck maintains a modest, if not obvious, accompaniment in the orchestra. That could leave room for any soloist, but Chen rarely sinks below meow’s knack for volume, his force evident in the many bow hairs he snapped while doing. performances.

However, Chen’s powerful lyricism produced beautifully-lined phrases in the violin’s highest, riskiest registers. The ensemble calls for it often, but not always, and his interpretation, conveyed as if with a heavy, sticky bow, rarely produces the contrast of flowing melody and rhythm. agile, nimble. Only in the finale’s sprint theme did he finally find a softer touch. Even more relaxed is the encore, his own fantasy-like arrangement of “Waltzing Matilda,” the unofficial national anthem of Australia, where he grew up.

Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony works here longer than many other accounts. But Honeck’s reading is a reward for patience – the introduction creates the atmosphere it lacks in motivation. It was just the beginning of an entirely new performance, one in which magnitude, for example, was never simply great; it denotes festival or uproar, or both at the same time. His Adagio, which begins with Brahmsian lushness, fearless of silence, reveals pastoral holiness. The finale feels like a ballroom dance, a subtle nod to Schulhoff, with a series of Dvorak repeated phrases, a journey from the lofty to the ebullient and full of unrelenting.

As guest conductors have recently passed away – with Herbert Blomstedt and Gustavo Dudamel on the way – the Philharmonic players have shown a promising flexibility not usually present in concerts with music directors. their own, Jaap van Zweden, who leaves in 2024. And under the right leadership, they can even be forgiven for bringing in the classics. As they demonstrated to Honeck, standard does not mean stale.

New York Philharmonic

The show continues through Saturday at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Manhattan; Review: The New York Philharmonic Brings the Standards

Fry Electronics Team

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