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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Concert Review: Thoroughly Modern Ludwig

Week One of The Modern Beethoven with David Zinman.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Man in black: David Zinman conducts the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © The New York Philharmonic.
On Friday afternoon, Bronx native David Zinman led the New York Philharmonic in a program pairing two Beethoven Symphonies (the Second and the Seventh) with a piece by Igor Stravinsky. This was the second concert of the first week of The Modern Beethoven, the Philharmonic's festival offering this spring.

Mr. Zinman (currently the Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich) is a champion of the new, critical edition of Beethoven symphonies, made by Jonathan Del Mar in the 1990s. As a conductor, his principal achievement is one of lucidity. Minor sonic details suddenly rise to the surface with thrilling effect. The Philharmonic sounded fresh and revitalized on Friday afternoon, playing with a blend of rough energy and refined grace.

Starting this three-week festival with the Second Symphony--the least played and least loved of the cycle, is something of a statement of intent. Under his baton, this work's debts to Mozart were apparent. (The opening notes recall the beginning of Die Zauberflöte.) The Allegretto bustled with an energy that recalled Rossini, moving ahead with playfulness and determination.

That operatic grace continued in the Larghetto, which looked forward and back in time: to the Romantic excesses of the 19th century and the courtly music-for-hire that defined the 18th. This is the sound of Beethoven planning the revolution that he launched with the Eroica in 1805. 

Each week of The Modern Beethoven pairs two symphonies with a 20th century work. The idea is to show the correlations that exist between these famous works and lesser-known concerti from the past 100 years. Here, it was the  Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky, a 15-minute piece in the Russian composer's neo-classical style. Peter Serkin was the featured soloist.

Stravinsky had a love for stripping and altering the familiar forms of so-called "classical" music. The Capriccio is effectively a second piano concerto. Its three tightly connected movements, spanning just 16 minutes. Mr. Serkin played the intimidating solo part with  steely concentration and bright power, creating rapid-fire climaxes from the keyboard. Mr. Zinman provided expert accompaniment, with Stravinsky's orchestral parts benefitting from his energetic leadership.

By using a somewhat enlarged orchestra for the Seventh, Mr. Zinman created a heavier sound from his players without ever sounding heavy-footed. The work's whirling dance movements sparkled with the energy of life itself, while the famous dragging march (heard, famously in the 2010 film The King's Speech) was taken at speed: determined, but not rushed. 

Mr. Zinman brought out the joyful energy of the last two dance movements, driving his orchestra into a Dionysian whirlwind of energy. The second violins and low winds were heard with great clarity, leaping into the fray alongside the other sections as the finale boiled to its climax. This was Beethoven as he is imagined by the Romantics, with rough energy and genteel refinement.

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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.