Grace and Joy
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
06/14/2012 - & June 15*, 16, 2012
Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture to “Coriolan”, Opus 62
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35
Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 3 (“Sinfonia espansiva”), Opus 27
Leonidas Kavakos (Violin), Erin Morley (Soprano), Joshua Hopkins (Baritone)
New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert (Music Director and Conductor)
Politically and musically, Korngold made the right move when he left German in the early 1930’s, settling in the “artist refugee center” of Los Angeles. Obviously as a Jew, the move saved his life. Musically, his genius as one of the last great Romantics, with Richard Strauss, his music would have been so unfashionable in the more “serious” concert halls, that he might have gone into sad oblivion.
Writing for Hollywood, though, Korngold never ever felt that he was demeaning his art. After all, sound movies were the wave of the future, the studios urgently needed “great” composers for their great movies, and Korngold always felt that he has as much integrity writing for Warner Brothers action films as for European operas and symphonies.
His Violin Concerto, played by the great violinist Leonidas Kavakos, was one of his more serious later works. Korngold never wrote it to make up for his movie business, but simply because music came so easily to him that he found it as much fun to write a concerto as to write the music for Captain Blood.
For us, alas, the Concerto, as excellent as it was anachronistic (written a few years after Berg’s Violin Concerto) still resembles his film scores, partly because those were so stirring and memorable.. I believe he took some of the themes from his movie scores (Vivaldi would have done the same thing!). But stylistically, with the plethora of harp glissandi in the first movement, it does sound awfully Warner Brothers.
The second theme of the opening could have been called the “Merle Oberon” song, and the final movement was easily Erroll Flynn jumping parapets or crows’s nests) in any spectacular. The second movement was passionate and lyrical enough to stand on its own, and Mr. Kavakos, with his magnificent Stradivarius made an easy job of it.
This is the not the stuff of impassioned sub-textural playing. It takes a violinist with a bright radiant tone and an easy way around the problems, and Mr. Kavakos was born to the task.
That finale was so blatantly joyful that it could have served as an introduction to the Carl Nielsen Third Symphony written in 1911. Like Korngold, the Danish composer was more late 19th than 20th Century. But he was such a singular idiosyncratic composer that he is always appealing.
In America, little was heard from him until Leonard Bernstein championed his cause. But a conductor like Alan Gilbert thrives on this kind of eccentric (if not disconcerting) music.
E. Morley (© Dario Acosta)
The title “Sinfonia Espansiva” is most appropriate. The symphony itself expands into a couple of singers in the second movement. They stand behind the orchestra or offstage, and sing a wordless vocalise. It takes real expertise, though – and both Erin Morley and Joshua Hopkins were up to the task.
J. Hopkins (© Marty Ulmans)
The music also expands to a wild waltz, some pastoral elegies and a finale which breathes musical optimism. Mr. Gilbert, who evidently loves the composer, gave it all the exuberance it deserves.
The only non-joyous piece last night was Beethoven’s Coriolan, but that backbone-jarring opening, (albeit with a bad horn fluff) was a good intro to the more Arcadian delights to come.