Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Webern: Passacaglia, Op. 1
Brahms: concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 77 – Pinchas Zukerman
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
The last concert of my New York Philharmonic mini-series was notable for its healthy dose of deliciously familiar and transcendentally elevating “comfort music”, compositions that we all tend to hear often but just cannot get enough of. Last week, the program featured two of Brahms’ major works, which are always a sure bet when one is looking for an evening that will please amateurs and connoisseurs alike. His violin concerto remains one of the most widely performed of the genre, and Saturday night it was internationally renowned violinist, conductor and teacher Pinchas Zukerman who had the terrifying honor to tackle it. As for his symphony No 4, there’s no denying the power of what has always been considered the crown achievement of an illustrious and much praised oeuvre. No wonder it was his last one. The opening number would be Webern’s Passacaglia, a piece that I had never heard before, but hey, I’ll take it as well.
The Passacaglia was ten very pleasant minutes of lushness and turmoil in late Romantic fashion, an elaborate but very accessible way to get everybody ready for the Brahms’ masterpieces that were to come.
This was my first chance to hear Brahms’ violin concerto this season, and I was very much looking forward to taking Pinchas Zukerman off my ever-shrinking list of top violinists whom I hadn’t heard perform it yet. For some unknown but deeply regrettable reason, our paths rarely cross, so getting to hear him at all was a totally giddiness-inducing prospect and the fact that it would be for Brahms’ stunning violin concerto only doubled the anticipation. Bring it on, for Pete’s sake! And he sure did, displaying an assuredness that even turned to studied nonchalance at times, always the consummate expert for whom this looked like just one more performance of a score he could handle in his sleep. That, however, did not keep him from conjuring moments of bracing intensity and sheer beauty, whether in the lushly expansive first movement or the delicately expressive Adagio. He eventually let loose for a joyfully exuberant finale and concluded the whole thing with minimum artificial flash but plenty of natural panache.
Bu the Brahms feast was not over and maestro Gilbert readily enticed a luscious, involved interpretation of the German master’s last symphony from his orchestra, taking his time to fully express the composer’s wide range of conflicting emotions. Every time I hear it, its all-around perfectness reminds me why this has to be one of my favorite symphonies ever. From the gentle waves of its soaring first movement to the passacaglia of its grand finale, which incidentally brought us full circle back to the beginning of the program, it is a trip that never fails to get to me, and it did yet again.. until next time.