Los Angeles Music Preview: ZIMMERMANN PLAYS DVOŘÁK (LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on November 20, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE WORDS BEHIND THE MUSIC

Just like anyone else, I occasionally turn to critics when choosing to attend a particular concert. The reports about German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann playing Antonín Dvořák’s seldom-heard Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra last year were so stellar that I have no choice but to see him perform it this weekend, when the LA Phil is led by Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck, who makes his Disney Hall debut with an all-Dvořák program, which also features the composer’s Carnival Overture and Symphony No. 8.

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Regarding Dvořák’s crowd-pleasing concerto, The Arts Fuse claimed that “Mr. Zimmermann remains as technically gifted and interpretively probing an artist as ever, and gave a deeply felt, nuanced reading that stands among the high points of this season… a wealth of interpretive insight and musical purpose…Zimmermann, who performs on Fritz Kreisler’s 1711 Stradivarius, attacked the solo part’s opening arpeggios with gusto and never looked back…he shaped every phrase and gesture with sensitivity and meaning—there is an inner logic to his interpretation that is as distinguishing as Dvořák’s musical voice is unique. He is highly energetic in performance, playing with a bright tone and impeccable intonation.”

Boston Classical Review said that Zimmermann “is clearly well respected by the ensemble, and deservedly so. [His] presence was felt most keenly throughout the first movement, not just in executing the solo part, but in his partnership with the conductor. Interpretively, Zimmermann occupies a space somewhere between the impetuous agility of Gil Shaham and the cool potency of Joshua Bell. He lets the music inspire him, but is careful not to upstage his fellows with onstage gyrations. His tone was impeccable, and his instrument has colors well suited to Dvořák’s sonic palette.”

Boston Music Intelligencer noted that the Concerto, composed in 1879 but premiered in 1893, is widely admired for its dash and fire as well as for the melodic beauty so characteristic of its composer; but it is notoriously difficult. So much so that Joseph Joachim, who the piece was written for, gave Dvořák copious advice on technique and orchestration, and then never performed it. “A gladiator like Zimmermann, however, is equal to all challenges, and he put forward a virtuoso demonstration by turns fiery and sentimental.”

Frank Peter Zimmermann

The reviews for Honeck’s leadership on Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 with Chicago Symphony Orchestra were just as praiseworthy. Chicago Classical Review said, “There was nothing the slightest bit routine about the combustible performances delivered by the orchestra under his baton. The Austrian conductor, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony since 2008, created one of the most thrilling CSO nights so far this season with a galvanic performance. Honeck managed to find an even more notable balance between Dvořák’s contrasting elements, with the confident exuberance and rhythmic swagger especially well projected. The music never sounded overdriven, with Honeck finding ample room to allow the Czech composer’s rustic charm to emerge with vernal freshness. Rarely will one encounter a performance of a Dvořák symphony with the kind of rarefied dynamic nuance Honeck brought to the middle movements…the closing movement was exhilarating, and the penultimate lyrical passage was rendered with beguiling tenderness.” Reviewer Lawrence A. Johnson went on to hail this as one of the top 10 performances of 2012.

The Chicago Tribune stated: “The Austrian conductor’s knack for bringing fresh, revealing insights to well-worn symphonic favorites is never in doubt. Although Honeck is Viennese, he has strong family roots in the Bohemian soil Dvořák knew and loved. But even if you didn’t know of his Czech connection you would have been won over by his bold, bracing yet idiomatic approach to the Eighth. This was no sentimental ramble through the Bohemian countryside but a vividly dramatic view. Honeck clearly was out to make this familiar symphony speak to modern ears with renewed vigor.”

Manfred Honeck

I will leave you with a quote about Dvořák’s 10-minute Carnival Overture from the composer himself: “The lonely, contemplative wanderer reaches the city at nightfall, where a carnival is in full swing. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of people giving vent to their feelings in their songs and dance tunes.”

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photos courtesy of LA Phil

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Manfred Honeck, conductor
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
DVOŘÁK: Carnival Overture
DVOŘÁK: Violin Concerto
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 8
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 at 8pm
Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 at 11am
Saturday, Nov 23, 2013 at 8pm
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit http://www.laphil.com/

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