Saturday, February 07, 2009

Anne-Sophie Mutter plays Mendelssohn

To put it in monetary terms, the first movement of Mendelssohn's Concerto in E minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64, as played by Anne-Sophie Mutter with the NYP last night, was worth the price of the ticket. And more. It was piercing and sensitive. It was vigorous and delicate. Its softest note does not lose its expressiveness; its loudest chord does not lose its complexity. The other two movements were very fine, but the first was divine. 

I like too Overture to Ruy Blas, Op. 95, that opened the concert. Mendelssohn declared the Victor Hugo's play "beneath contempt," but did not want to disappoint the Leipzig Theatrical Pension Fund, the worthy organization that asked him for an overture to their performance of Hugo. James M. Keller's program note describes the piece: 

In the span of seven minutes, this angry, fiery work perfectly evokes the play's brooding atmosphere, with a stentorian motif of sustained chords for woodwinds and brass regularly punctuating the otherwise energetic proceedings at intervals. As one would expect from the mature Mendelssohn, the orchestration is inspired: with the second theme, for example, he achieves an altogether original sound by assigning the melody to the clarinets and bassoons (playing legato) against staccato doubling in the strings. The overture displays a vocabulary that is in certain ways similar to that of Verdi's hyper-Romantic operas of the ensuing decade. 

The third work of the all-Mendelssohn program, conducted by Kurt Masur, was Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night), P. 60. It put to music a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a poem about the druids and their worshippers' successful resistance against Christian encroachment. Played rather briskly, the piece struck me as bombastic, just as the words sounded too triumphalist a note. I do like the sound and image of the last line, sang by the Druid Priest, and echoed by the Chorus (Westminster Symphonic Chorus): Dein Licht, wer kann es rauben? or Your light, who can take from us? 

A measure of Mendelssohn's popularity in his day: the Violin concerto premiered March 13, 1845, at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and made its work across the Atlantic to a NYP premiere on November 24, 1849. Four years. Not bad at all for a new work of that time. 


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