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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Concert Review: Kurt Masur at the Philharmonic

Disclaimer: OK, dear reader. I admit it. I'm biased. I like Kurt Masur. I've interviewed him--an interesting man to talk to who is thoroughly passionate about music. And Masur was a formative conductor for me--the music director when I was completing my education and starting my professional career. In my Citysearch days, the New York Philharmonic was the first NY arts organization to give me a leg up (read: free tickets and press seats) so I've probably reviewed more Masur performances than any conductor except maybe James Levine at the Met. Hearing him conduct is for, this writer, a bit like coming home. It also might make me sound a bit biased in this review but *shrug* it's my blog so I'll gush if I want to.

Kurt Masur returned to the New York Philharmonic last night, bringing his baton-less style back to the orchestra that he led from 1991 to 2002. On the program, a Mendelssohn overture, Sibelius' violin concerto, and Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, a work I know from records even though I'd never seen it performed in concert. Funny how you avoid works that are associated with tragedy and death, but no longer. The concert opened with a salty rendition of theHebrides Overture, a ten-minute evocation of the Scottish coast which is also known as Fingal's Cave.

This was followed by Sibelius' Violin Concerto, a work that, like all Sibelius' major pieces, speaks volumes about its native Finland--while allowing the soloist plenty of room to display his virtuosity. That soloist, Sergey Kachatryan, played with a deft command of his instrument, racing from low strings to the highest positions, navigating the supremely difficult cadenza of the first movement with skill and focus. The adagio was beautifully played, with a lyric touch that isn't always associated with Sibelius. And the finale, like all critics I have to tip my hat to Donald Tovey, who called it "A polonaise of polar bears") was a joyful romp, expertly underpinned and accompanied by Masur and the

The Pathetique Symphony, (the title means "full of pathos", not "pathetic") premiered in 1893, nine days before the composer's untimely death. (He contracted cholera from drinking a glass of tainted water--no one knows if it was suicide.) This is his sixth symphony, a dark, programmatic piece, where the usual Tchaikovskian blend of ebullience and emotion is tinted in the key of b minor, keeping the proceedings grim throughout. In its bleak outlook, the symphony predicts the coming of Mahler and his heroic works--particularly that composer's own Sixth Symphony--the Tragic.

This performance harnessed the raging torrent of the Philharmonic's famous brass section, particularly the trombones, led by Joseph Alessi and the horns led by Philip Myers. Special mention must also be made of the woodwinds--The introduction with bassoons and clarinets was marvelously played. The big romantic main theme from the first movement (which recalls the Act II "Flower Song" from Bizet's Carmen) soared on its own wings, contrasting with the raging central section of the movement. The two central dance movements were nimbly played, with that characteristic rhythm-snap that Masur brings to the podium. In the finale, the torrent ceased to a trickle of cellos, finally fading into nothingness.
Photo © Chris Lee/New York Philharmonic/

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats