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Friday, October 24, 2008

Concert Review: Mr. Robertson's Neighborhood

A man and his violin: Leonidas Kavakos.
Photo © 2008 by Yannis Bournias.
Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic featured a trio of familiar orchestral works led under the able baton of David Robertson. Robertson is music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and is currently in town for a two-week residency. This program explored music from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, incorporating the sounds of Salzburg (Mozart), Budapest (Bartok) and Vienna (Brahms.)

The evening started out with an energetic performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 34 in F Major. This is an important Mozart symphony, marking the composer's transition from Salzburg to Vienna and highlighting his decision to use a slightly more expanded orchestra. It is sometimes odd to hear these smaller-scale works in the great hall built for the likes of Mahler and Bruckner, but this was a pleasing performance, with warm textures from the string section and some agility in the woodwinds.

The Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 followed. This work is a good introduction to Bartok. It is mostly tonal, and creates a shimmering set of variations on a simple Hungarian folk melody. Leonidas Kavakos played the tricky solo part with fire and energy, navigating the difficult cadenzas with a pleasing, singing tone from his Stradivarius. Each individual movement was greeted with applause from some enthusiastic patrons in the house. When they were "shushed" by more tradition-minded concert-goers, Kavakos said, "no, it's OK. You can applaud!" before launching into the difficult final movement.

The concert concluded with a powerful, robust Brahms Third Symphony (the piece immortalized by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers as "Brahms' Third Racket!". The Racket went off beautifully, except for a small problem with one of the horns. After a bad note in the opening passages and could be seen pulling out his crooks and trying to clean out his instrument onstage. Happily, his four fellow section-members were more than able to cover for the problems, which were clearly the fault of the instrument and not of the performer. The rest of the symphony went off without a hitch, with the orchestra delving deeply into the rich textures of Brahms' score, playing this idyllic, optimistic symphony with genuine joy.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.