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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Concert Review: Winter Skies and Lullabies

The New York Philharmonic plays Sibelius and Brahms.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann. Photo by Klaus Rudolph © the photographer.

The audience at the New York Philharmonic’s series of 11am Friday matinee concerts skews toward the conservative; music lovers gathered to hear timeless works, preferably by composers form the 19th century whose surnames begin with 'B' On Friday morning, conductor Sakami Oramo led the orchestra in just such a concert, a sturdy three-course brunch of Sibelius and Brahms.

The Oceanides is an unusual Sibelius tone poem, a one movement rondo which was actually written for a premiere here in the United States. Here, Sibelius briefly embraced Impressionism, painting a rolling portrait of the vast Atlantic Ocean that seems to swell and eddy in waves of sound. It is one of the composer's more unusual creations, combining great subtlety and poetic writing with considerable orchestral vigor.

Mr. Oramo led a performance that featured shimmering washes of strings and fine, pointillist playing from the woodwinds. These figurations moved against dark orchestral colors, driven forward by two timpani players. This was a welcome return to the orchestral repertory for this piece, which had suffered a 12-year absence from the Philharmonic's concert rotation.

Another welcome return was that of violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, who spent the 2011-2012 season as the orchestra's Artist-in-Residence. Mr. Zimmermann offered the Sibelius Violin Concerto, one of that composer's most popular and frequently programmed creations. Sibelius himself was an aspiring professional violinist, and his only concerto for any instrument broke new ground in what was at the time a fading and old-fashioned genre of orchestral work.

The demanding first movement requires an unusual amount of cooperation from conductor and soloist. Here, it suffered from tuning and intonation problems from Mr. Zimmermann's instrument, which had been punished by long cadenzas. Mr. Zimmermann overcame these issues to play the difficult solo passages with a great deal of northern soul, but he did have to retune his instrument in the pause between movements.

The mysterious, singing slow movement featured a renewed Mr. Zimmerman singing against dark, subtle accompaniment. The finale was not subtle at all, a riotous movement led off by the folk-like fiddle tune, with the ensemble joining the solo violin in a joyous round dance. This was driven forward by timpani and chugging low strings. This was a potent and energetic interpretation, full of good spirits and virtuoso playing by a soloist fully recovered from his earlier malady.

The second half of the concert featured Mr. Oramo's interpretation of Brahms' Symphony No. 2. The opening Allegro was played at a brisk and invigorating clip, setting the pace for the three movements to follow. The Philharmonic players obliged the conductor with a long and subtle slow movement, and a playful Allegretto. The finale, led off by the low strings had a church-music quality to its repeated round theme, ending with a spectacular passage for the Philharmonic brass.
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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.