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Podium Pentathlete

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
01/03/2008 -  and January 4, 2008
Felix Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream, overture, opus 21 – Violin Concerto, opus 64
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Horn Concerto #2, K. 417
Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations, opus 36

Viviane Hagner (violin), Philip Myers (horn)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (conductor)

Lorin Maazel isn’t looking to break any records, but during the first ten days of 2008, he will have given seven performances of four different concerts. The results with the Phil have been good, and his rehearsals for next week’s Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera are reportedly smooth.. In his 70’s, Maazel is evidently in his prime

Then again, Maazel has chosen music fit neatly into his penchant for the larger forces of 19th Century orchestral color.

No audience of the 19th Century would have been satisfied with a program of music for which the earliest work was written 224 years ago, and the “youngest” was 109 years old. Earlier audiences wanted to see their contemporaries, not some antediluvian old fogies.
But Philharmonic audiences are as artistically conservative as they are politically liberal, so having three of last night-s four pieces composed during the reign (and adoration) of Queen Victoria was hardly an aberration.

If the concert belonged to any instrument, it was not Viviane Hagner’s Stradivarius, beautiful as that was. It belonged to the French horn, both funereal and festive.

The former was an homage to Jerome Ashby, the young horn and Wagner tuba player who died a few weeks ago, In his honor, those brasses played a suitably solemn arrangement of the Hansel and Gretel prayer.

More substantial was the present Principal Horn, Philip Myers, in Mozart’s Second Horn Concerto . And for those who think one solo horn sounds like another, this was a revelation. As expected, Myers’ technique was faultless, his trills, his easy runs in the first movement, and hunting fanfares in the last, were faultless. But Myers, with the profile of Boss Tweed, but a sound like embellished silk, gave a color to each note which any string player could admire. From the second theme of the opening movement to the placid Andante, Myers offered a variety of timbres that belied the valveless instrument for which Mozart had written.

The work was short (too short!), and Maazel hardly changed tempos until the final movement, made for Mozart’s original “forest”–horn, yet Myers made each note sing.

The guest soloist was the young Munich-born Viviane Hagner, who has made quite a name for herself these past few years. Her performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto was notable for the most lovely tone from her prized 1717 Strad. In the first movement, nothing was rushed, her technical virtuosity was secondary to a thoughtful even reading. Even in the molto appassionato , Hagner never rushed it, giving a pensive introspective reading.

Alas, this was reversed in the final Allegro molto vivace where she was fractionally faster than the orchestra. Such good-spirited spontaneity was hardly perfection, but Mendelssohn often has too much perfection to be interesting.

The opening overture to the same composer’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was notable first by barely audible delicate ensemble string playing; and by the woodwind gossamer filigrees. (I almost typed the word “woodland” for woodwind, an appropriate enough mistake.)

The final work was another bit of Victoriana, Elgar’s Variations, with their double-enigma. The puzzle of the cryptic initials for each movement was solved long ago. But Elgar’s challenge to find the doppelganger tune for the theme is almost certainly a red herring.

Maazel started a bit stodgily but quickly warmed up to Elgar’s exercise in orchestration. Nimrod was suitably grand, the climax was suitably climactic. But I was waiting to hear in Variation XII, the sounds of Canine Dan. Thanks to the dogged efforts of Mr. Maazel and the brass section, Elgar’s favorite bulldog growled, woofed and happily barked into the heart of the auditorium.

Harry Rolnick



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