Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #6
Robert Schumann: Symphony #2
Wolfgang Sawallisch (conductor)
No, that’s it. That’s the review. If I were a more confident critic, say a Dorothy Parker, I would just stop there. Anything else would be superfluous. Alas, not owning the soul of wit, I offer this elaboration:
Walking from my office to Carnegie Hall early last evening I passed through Madison Square where the magnolia is in spectacular but fleeting bloom. Dogs run free in this section of the park, their owners allowed to relax in their maternal duties for a while. Everything and most everyone natural combine to trumpet in unison a glorious, if very late, arrival of spring. So this is what it is like to experience a great performance of the Beethoven 6!
Wolfgang Sawallisch has the steadiest hand of any conductor alive today and I mean this not just metaphorically, for surely he has kept the Philadelphia Orchestra’s ship intact through both calm seas and turbulent waters, but literally, as his realizations of the classics are as close to flawless as humanly possible, as true to the spirits of their original scores and composers’ intents as we are all likely to hear anytime soon. Last night, his forces were in superb voice, the strings blended luxuriously, the winds tight and clear, the brass, and especially this evening the horns, incredibly eloquent. His ”Pastorale” was notable not just for the von Karajan-like solid beat, but also for the championing of inner voices in the strings, allowing the listener, obviously already familiar with this comforting and universally loved work, to follow new distinct melodic paths hiding in this manmade woodland as if they were harmonic lines. The overall pace was decidedly on the brisk side, the parade of cuckoos and oafs sprightly rather than contemplative, the storm more of the innocuous, cartoon variety, the orchestra throughout deliciously sharing their exultancy with the assembled throng. Pure joy.
This was the maestro’s last concert at Carnegie as music director of this remarkable ensemble, but no worries, as he returns next season conductor laureate. Still, there was a palpable sense of history at this concert, aided somewhat by its being the last in a yearlong survey of the works of Robert Schumann (and this programming continuity does have an effect on the audience, as this event was part of a subscription). The final traversal of the 2nd was athletic and crisp, robust and ordered, the runner breathing in rhythm for maximum efficiency. If we have learned any one thing from Herr Sawallisch’s didacticism by example, it is that poor Schumann actually could orchestrate his own works rather successfully, creating a muscular overleaf for his original musical skeleton. This series, complete with concerti, has been the most satisfying one of the entire New York season. When this pulsating version was concluded, the Carnegie crowd refused to leave without hailing Sawallisch with no less than five prolonged standing ovations while, for at least one of them, the normally compliant orchestra refused to stand despite their leader’s exhortations, leaving all of the adulation for him.
Frederick L. Kirshnit