Fischer, Znaider serve Beethoven and Dvořák for Thanksgiving at Philharmonic

Thu Nov 24, 2016 at 12:25 pm
Nikolaj Znaider performed Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Ivan Fischer and the New York Philharmonic Wednesday night.

Nikolaj Znaider performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Ivan Fischer and the New York Philharmonic Wednesday night.

When the New York Philharmonic lifted the lid Wednesday night on its Thanksgiving weekend program, one dish proved a good deal tastier than the other.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto received a wonderfully focused and communicative performance from violinist Nikolaj Znaider, conductor Iván Fischer and the Philharmonic players. 

However, during Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 the musicians seemed to be already smelling the turkey, as problems of balance and ensemble cropped up, and the performance never quite came together.

Fischer got the concerto off to a good start by crafting the orchestral exposition as a single story in several scenes, linked by rhythmic steadiness and a sense of forward motion even as the tempo ebbed and flowed.

Znaider’s demeanor was composed, even modest, as he probed all the expressive corners of his part.  And that means all–not just the soaring solos but the decorative passages, which Znaider played with shape and character.  

Maybe he had to share the credit for his extraordinary tone—big and golden even in the most aggressive passages, and sweet in the topmost register—with the historic instrument he performs on, the “Kreisler” Guarnerius del Gesù of 1741.  Still, one has to know how to play it.

Together, violinist and conductor seemed to find the thread of imagination that linked the first movement’s disparate ideas, which seemed to build on and complete each other in this seamless performance.

The rapt Larghetto was daringly slow and soft, a mere rustle much of the time, yet even here a sense of purpose animated each return of the theme, until Znaider capped all with a gorgeously ornamented version of it.

Except for Znaider playing the rondo theme a little out of time, the finale was a model of fleet-fingered solos amid zesty, spot-on dance rhythms.  Big smiles in the orchestra afterward suggested that the now-customary conductor’s hug and onstage applause for the soloist had some real feeling behind them Wednesday night.

Ivan Fischer

Ivan Fischer

In the Dvořák symphony, the opening pages are marked Allegro con brio throughout, but often aren’t played that way.  Conductor Fischer got right down to business, not lingering over the melancholy cello theme or the flute’s bird call, and it sounded as though another long-arc performance might be in store, as in the concerto.

But the lightning didn’t strike twice.  Although both this movement and the following Adagio moved along with admirable steadiness, the sense of organic growth from one episode to the next was mostly missing. 

The waltz-like Allegro grazioso sounded lead-footed, as if the orchestra were digging for its usual bright, full sound instead of letting the music fly.  As a result, the funny up-tempo coda fell a little flat—a taste of things to come, as it turned out.

At least for the first three movements, the orchestra ran like a well-oiled machine.  In the finale, the effort started to show, and the performance sounded more studied than spontaneous. Technical problems appeared–a theme obscured by its accompaniment here, woodwinds falling out of sync there. Dvořák’s expressive contrast of nostalgia and raucous joy didn’t register fully at either end.

But Fischer and the Philharmonic musicians are professionals, and they delivered the music on time and in (mostly) good order, to grateful applause. One only wished they could bring Znaider back to play the Dvořák violin concerto as an encore.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.; 212-875-5656.


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