Friday, February 10, 2023

Neidorff-Karpati Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York City

Leonard Slatkin returned to the MSM (his next visit is April 14, Rite of Spring), if not on this occasion quite as intended. The plan was to include a piece for each hierarchy of the School’s Symphony Orchestra – woodwinds would have had Richard Strauss’s E-flat Serenade (Opus 7), brass a couple of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzoni, and percussion Carlos Chávez’s Toccata, which Leonard’s father, Felix Slatkin, made the first recording of.

So, in a word, rehearsals, we were left with George Walker’s Lyric for Strings (1946/90) – which, several Lockdown appearances later, I continue to struggle to appreciate its charms, despite this shapely and sensitive rendition – and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony … the ending of which has been examined afresh by Slatkin, talked about at this concert, and written about below. The performance – conducted from memory, the strings sporting antiphonal violins, basses to the left – was a gripping one of music enshrined as a Symphony, Stalin-generated politics and the composer’s 1930s’ circumstances not speculated about. With the students finely honed, this was an integrated musical reading, a first movement incrementally intensifying to a blazing climax before returning to calmer waters (what each listener hears in the notes is a personal matter) and a Scherzo of weight and balletic point. The Largo is the Symphony’s heart, here spacious and eloquent, expressive intimacies and threads of sound – rapt pianissimos, very responsive woodwinds – growing to fever pitch, then sinking back. The opening of the Finale was deliberate and hammered, accelerating (as score-requested), markedly and fiercely here into reflective lyricism. Let’s forward to the ending: Slatkin’s April 1986 St Louis recording finds him nippy (like Bernstein and Previn, with Fedoseyev, concert, also fleet), and now more akin to Mravinsky (the Fifth’s first conductor), if not as massive as Masur. In the context of this MSM performance as a whole, Slatkin’s coda revision worked perfectly. [includes the link to the concert, if still available, and Fedoseyev’s Finale]

Detroit Symphony Orchestra – Leonard Slatkin conducts Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind and Bartók’s MSPC, with Garrick Ohlsson playing Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1. Live DSO webcast.