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Review: Los Angeles Philharmonic Plays All-Dvorák, with Frank Peter Zimmermann

Laurie Niles

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Published: November 24, 2013 at 10:54 PM [UTC]

"This isn't the New World symphony, is it?" a few ladies were asking each other as they leafed through their programs behind me, before the Los Angeles Philharmonic's all-Dvorák show Friday at Disney Hall, with Manfred Honeck conducting.

On the program was Dvorák's Eighth Symphony ("not from the New World," as the ladies soon concluded), Carnival Orchestra, and Violin Concerto, played by Frank Peter Zimmerman.

Antonin DvorákI love Dvorák's Eighth, an Old-World Bohemian countryside kind of symphony, to be sure. Old hat, for a symphony musician, too: I've played it many times, starting in high school. It is familiar fare for many. It would be hard to displease me with it, but maybe harder to make me see something new in it.

Yet this performance was full of revelations. Conductor Manfred Honeck appeared to have a distinct plan, and it was all about movement -- holding back, pushing forward and bringing out the drama in this work. At times the beating stopped and he seemed to put things in the hands of the various leaders within the orchestra, who have a great many solos in this work.

For example: the woodwind section. Bravo! If orchestras, like sports teams, gave MVP awards at the end of every concert, I would heartily endorse flutist Julien Beaudiment for the honor. Certainly this symphony features the flutist, but Beaudiment brought great style, pacing, direction and energy to the task, from the bird calls of the first movement to the virtuosic solo in the last. The entire woodwind section showed great teamwork throughout, with other well-played solos by oboist Ariana Ghez and clarinetist Burt Hara.

The second movement had good ebb and flow, with a well-dramatized stillness-before-the-storm, bursting into movement and uproar, then coasting back into friendly sunshine. Nice soli work by the first violins in the third movement, a dance with a touch of those Romantic slides that are okay-to-do-in-Dvorák. But the last movement was my favorite. It begins with a warm-hearted greeting from the celli, which gets a little thicker and thornier as others join in. (This could be said of any orchestra party, aren't the cellists the warm, social ones, until the rest of us arrive?) As this music grows thicker, the pace typically accelerates, but Honeck held it slow until it sounded like a trudging dinosaur, setting up a great contrast when it burst forward with the brisk and triumphant section that follows. When the music hinges again, from the madness back to that original theme, it's such a sentimental return to a thought. The music changes subtly, as memory changes something and makes it sweeter, and Honeck teased out the nostalgia of that spot. Of course, it can't end like that, the music wakes up, picks up and races to the end, and in this case, to many ovations (including enthusiastic applause from the ladies behind me!).

That was the second half. I'm afraid that during the first half, I simply had an impossible angle on the soloist, Frank Peter Zimmermann, playing the Dvorák Violin Concerto. Sitting in Orchestra East, stage right behind the first violins, I could see the back of the soloist's head, but I couldn't see any aspect of his playing: his right hand, left hand, violin, face, etc. (By the way, it was a great seat for watching the conductor, something to think about if you want to see Dudamel).

Also, Zimmermann's sound simply was pointed another direction into the hall, not to the section where I sat. It's just the nature of the fiddle, the sound is projected where you point the f-holes, and you can't really project it behind you! Occasionally he'd swing around for a part where he was synchronizing with the first violins, and I could hear his very lovely violin with clarity for a few moments, but not for long. I imagine people sitting in other parts of the hall had clearer impressions; it seemed all was going well. He is obviously a violinist with a beautiful vibrato, great technique (I did observe some really impressive octaves) and sensitivity. I hope at some point I will be able to see (and hear) Frank Peter Zimmermann in concert again, in a situation that will allow me to absorb all aspects of his playing. By the way, Manfred Honeck also conducted in a recording of this piece just released in October, with Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 24, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Great review.
For met Zimmerman is one of the best soloists around bar none. ,An original
thinker who combines the best of the old with the best of modern playing technique. His vibrato is a great model for study.

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