Conductor: Andris Nelsons
Dvorak: The Noon Witch, Op. 108
Brahms: Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 77 - Christian Tetzlaff
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123, Sz. 116
Some days are just more blessed than others, and last Wednesday was definitely one of those. After my lovely lunchtime interlude with Cantori New York, I proceeded to spend my evening in the Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic conducted by visiting Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons and featuring enigmatic violinist Christian Tetzlaff for Brahms' magnificent violin concerto, my main reason to attend the concert. But I also have to say that the prospect of hearing a work that I did not know from Bartok - reputedly one of his most engaging compositions - certainly did not hurt either.
The concert started with Dvorak's symphonic poem The Noon Witch, a short piece inspired by the Czech poem "Polednice". Although the story conveys an eerie darkness - A mother ends up accidentally smothering her rambunctious son because of the Noon Witch she had invoked to make him obey - the performance by the Philharmonic enhanced the boundless colors and vivacity of the score with just a touch of macabre.
Christian Tetzlaff being the ultimate cerebral musician, I am always curious to hear him fearlessly present his own version of works that are popular crowd-pleasers. So far, this interesting exercise has always turned out to be an excellent adventure. And I am pleased to report that Wednesday night was no exception either as he did not hesitate to hold back all the shamelessly sweeping lyricism of Brahms' grandly Romantic violin concerto while at the same time coming up with unusual, well-thought-out details. Intellectualism does not necessarily mean detachment though, and his unquestionable musical expertise also allowed him to boldly inject a slick virtuosic grittiness into this richly ornate piece. The Adagio probably did not bring any tears to anybody's eyes, but it most likely made a few jaws drop at its exacting yet compelling quality, which is quite a remarkable feat when it comes to this beloved composition. The orchestra was definitely game to follow the soloist wherever he fancied venturing, and Andris Nelsons made sure everybody was on the same page to successfully bring this intriguing war horse home.
We resolutely stayed in the realm of stimulating experimentation with Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, whose exceptionally dense score is as unpredictable as it is rewarding. The three major movements and the two more episodic intermezzos cover a wide range of sounds and moods, and it is to Andris Nelsons' credit that he managed to tightly keep track of every single detail while not losing sight of the big picture. All instrument sections got their turn in the spotlight, and I was particularly pleased that the sounds coming from the two harps were clear and assertive, which is not always the case. The whole orchestra brilliantly raised to the challenge and in the process reminded the captive audience why this symphony-like concerto has always been one of Bartok's most enduring successes ever since it first came out. As long as it is played with such fierce commitment, this well-earned status is unlikely to change.