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The Month of Halloweens

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
10/18/2012 -  & October 19, 20, 23, 2012
Edouard Lalo: Symphonie espagnole, Opus 21
Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Opus 14

Augustin Hadelich (Violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (Conductor)

R. Frühbeck de Burgos (© Askonas Holt)

New Yorkers don’t celebrate Halloween Night Halloween Eve. Here in Manhattan, Halloween is a Scary Eve, A Ghostly Week, a ghoulish week, a frenzy for the entire month of October. Movies like Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie monopolize October screens. The East Village has a Halloween Parade for dogs this Saturday, while next week the entire West Village will go into a Cross-Dressing Transylvanian Transvestite Spectacular parade which somehow calls itself a Halloween parade.

For the entire month, innocent grocery shops suddenly dress up to sell Halloween paraphernalia, while schoolkids parade around the streets night and day endlessly as skeletons, witches and (scariest of all) Anne Romney.

Musically, even us classical folks get our Halloween druthers. Two weeks ago, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic gave us an eerie version of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, with its ghastly Witches’ Sabbath. Not to be outdone, last night, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos offered another Witches’ Sabbath in Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique. And if the audience last night wasn’t shaking in its shoes, the conductor was less interested in etching a picture of fear than painting an orchestra in full regalia.

Mr. Frühbeck took Berlioz’ notation to play the waltz without too much speed. In fact, it was a deceivingly placid waltz, allowing the conductor to build up the tension unawares. The outdoor oboe-English horn duet was not as atmospheric as I had heard it before (perhaps the illusion of an al fresco sound was destroyed as the English horn player formally left the orchestra, opened the door, played, then re-appeared), but the winds, especially First Chair Clarinet Mark Nuccio, were so brilliant.

And when Mr. Came to those thrilling throbbing strings in the final two movements, one took especial pleasure in how precise the colors were arranged. It was, in other words, not a showy Fantastic Symphony, as a dreamy Fantastic Symphony. Not that it lagged in any way, but an opium dream needs no undue haste. The images spoke and sung for themselves.

A. Hadelich (© Rosalie O’Connor)

The evening started with another symphony which wasn’t a symphony. Like his one-time conductor, Hector Berlioz (the composer was violinist and cellist), Edouard Lalo aimed for the picturesque rather than the classical in his Symphonie espagnole. Lalo was no Hector Berlioz, but he composed a charming five-movement work which is played all too rarely in America.

The violinist here was the young Augustin Hadelich, a product of three cultures: German parents, Italian upbringing and study at Juilliard. And no wonder that his violin sings so sweetly. He has a Stradivarius, specifically the "ex-Kiessewetter". His bow is light, his technique seemed flawless. That, however, may not be enough for the Lalo.

This is not simply a light-hearted Capriccio espagnol-style homage to Spain. The third and fourth movements breathe less Iberian wonder than Arab, almost Hebraic tunes of Spain’s past. A variety of moods are needed, and Mr. Hadelich was certainly serious enough here. Still, these movement need at least the façade of spontaneity, and Mr. Hadelich kept to the notes.

Lacking, though, was a warmth, a charm, even a kind of schmaltz at time. Comductor Frühbeck opened with a strongly accented introduction, but the following violin solos seemed a bit bland, perhaps a bit too literal. The habanera should dance, Mr. Hadelich played it with sheer beauty. Still, the finale, with its clever harmonics, twinkled and sparkled, and Mr. Frühbeck allowed him to finish with sparkling style.

Harry Rolnick



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