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Concertos for Orchestra and Violin

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
09/23/2010 -  & Sept. 24, 25, 28*
Richard Strauss: Don Juan
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Henri Dutilleux: Métaboles
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

Itzhak Perlman (Violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Conductor)

I. Perlman (© Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

Paraphrasing the lubricious line from Airplane, “I want my Mendelssohn Violin Concerto like I want my eggs: light, well-done and fresh.”

In other words, Itzhak Perlman playing the old warhorse like it was a young pony. Mr. Perlman was as reliable as the Concerto, itself. He dug no new ground, he made no attempt to give an original interpretation. But so expressive are his fingers, so glorious is his violin, and such an affinity did he have with conductor Alan Gilbert, that one could simply sit back and…well, enjoy the show.

More specifically, Mr. Perlman rarely injected the Mendelssohn with extraneous feelings. With the first movement, one pictured the aristocratic composer taking simply joy in his quite perfect composition. Not until the cadenza did Mr. Perlman’s ease turned into what could only be called graceful virtuosity.

The second movement was placid, and for the finale, Mr. Perlman took his own burning tempo, to which Mr. Gilbert and the Phil had to follow.

The Concerto, was the only “abstract” music, the other pieces harking back to ancestral stories. The opener, Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, was given an electrifying performance by the whole orchestra. Mr. Gilbert’s opening phrases were thrilling, though played with such exactitude that sometimes one forgot they were climactic surges.

I’m not personally fond of inordinately slowing down the love scenes, as did the conductor. (Nor did the composer, who once asked an orchestra not to play it so beautifully, “since the woman was a common tramp”). But Mr. Gilbert obviously saw Don Juan’s love-making as more than hit-and-run, so he gave it that extra border-of schmaltz feeling, which was quite acceptable.

These two works were the genesis of the program. The exodus was in the intermission, when dozens upon dozens of the audience–those members who Charles Ives would have called “sissies”–departed, refusing to have their minds challenged by (Sacre bleu!!,) something unfamiliar.

They needn’t have worried. Mr. Gilbert showed off his orchestra with a pair of very accessible concertos for orchestra.

Paul Hindemith’s homage to Carl Maria von Weber actually reverted to the composers own ancestry as a young schreckliches Kind, (or, in English, enfant terrible). One rarely thinks of the stern contrapuntalist in this way, but his radical humor of the 1920s was translated into a joyous, very jazzy synthesis of Weber tunes. The NY Phil didn’t offer hilarity, but let the sliding trombones and percussion supply the humor.

Henri Dutilleux’ Métaboles were more complicated, the composer himself explaining that they were “based on the Greek passage connecting the conjunct system to the disjunct system (or vice versa)”.

The first four movement highlighted winds (rich solo runs by flute and clarinet), strings, brass and percussion, the latter played softly against what seemed to be a trio of trombones and the lowest notes of tuba.

The last movement, titled “Flamboyant” didn’t live up to the name, but was more interesting, with each delicate series of preceding sounds offered in new versions and finally put together in quodlibet form.

Mr. Dutilleux’ description and transformative techniques might have scared off part of the audience, but the reality, under Mr. Gilbert’s baton, was a delicate delight.

Harry Rolnick



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