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Not Your Usual Summer Dreams

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
03/29/2012 -  & March 30, 31*, 2012
Alfred Schnittke: (K)ein Sommernachtstraum
Antonin Dvorák: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Opus 53
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony Number 6 in B minor “Pathétique”, Opus 74

Frank Peter Zimmermann (Violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi (Conductor)

C. von Dohnányi (© Courtesy of the Artist)

Since Alfred Schnittke is rarely played here, it was fun to watch the audience reaction. They had been so pleased to hear that simple 18th Century theme which started and ended the work. But...what were those dissonances, those eerie modulations and meter alterations? Perhaps...well, just perhaps their ears were deceiving them?

Of course not. Schnittke, who died at far too early an age after a lengthy illness, was an inner wanderer. Born in the German section of the old Soviet Union, partly Jewish, partly Russian, his music is what’s called “polystylistic”, and he–like so many composers of his generation who quote other musics and styles–was never loath to take simple Baroque or Classical themes and twist them around.

It was not done sardonically (like Shostakovich or Bartók), but with a sense that this was the only way he could produce his language. And in Not a Summer Night’s Dream (written upon request to fill out a Shakespeare evening), he took a bucolic theme from the verdant glades of Shakespeare’s pastorale, and twisted it with enough quirks and idiosyncrasies to give aural illusions to the unsuspecting audience.

F. P. Zimmermann (© New York Philharmonic)

Ah well, no questions had to be asked about Frank Peter Zimmermann, the New York Phil resident artist this year. The Dvorák Violin Concerto is played all too infrequently here: perhaps because the Brahms Concerto written in the same period, is consciously masterful, perhaps because the Mendelssohn is a bit more tuneful.

But Mr. Zimmermann has the grace to make the first two rhapsodic movement seem songful enough, and because he has the youthful fire for the folk-dance-ish finale. Dvorák knew what he was doing when he labeled it “Allegro giocoso”, since it a very happy movement, written when the composer was at the height of his powers.

Conductor von Dohnányi, while born in Germany, is an heir to “ethnic” Central European music, and he had the most difficult part: balancing out the New York Phil with Mr. Zimmermmann. Even more than the Brahms or Mendelssohn, Dvorák gave rarely divided soloist and orchestra, and the two ensembles wove around each other with something approaching delight.

The final Tchaikovsky “Pathétique”, like the Dvorák, was played with true refinement by this most elegant conductor. The clouds predicted, rather than reproduced the storm. The second movement strange 5/4 meter was pleasantly uneccentric, and the third movement was given a big treatment.

When the mnd wandered (as inevitably it does in this old warhorse), I was wondering, though, whether Frank Peter Zimmermann, still backstage listening to Not A Summer Night’s Dream was hoping that he could play some of Schnittke’s violin concertos for the New York Phil.
Some of us Schnittke-fanatics have exactly the same mid-Spring dream.

Harry Rolnick



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