THE NEW YORK TIMES|
July 20, 2002
A POPS CONCERT BY MASUR (AND WHY NOT?)
By Allan Kozinn
Protracted farewells are traditionally the province of opera singers, but as he has geared up to leave the directorship of the New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur has become the Barry Bonds of goodbyes. After a string of farewells at the end of the season, a few weeks ago, Mr. Masur took the Philharmonic on a valedictory Asian tour, and on Thursday evening at Avery Fisher Hall, the Lincoln Center Festival gave Mr. Masur and his players an opportunity to celebrate Mr. Masur's 75th birthday, and to say goodbye again. As Beverly Sills put it when she introduced the concert, the performance was Mr. Masur's "75th going-away birthday party," although she probably didn't mean it quite the way it sounds.
The real finale for Mr. Masur's Philharmonic tenure will be at Tanglewood, with concerts today and Sunday, and those concerts, with big works by Brahms, Mahler and Beethoven, will be a more fitting conclusion than the pops concert Mr. Masur led on Thursday. He undoubtedly recognized this. "For the first time in my life," he wrote in a program note, "I am conducting a program that includes single movements excerpted from great masterpieces, a practice I have always rejected in the past as unacceptable."
The point of the program, he added, was to show off as many of the Philharmonic first-chair players as possible in a single concert, which meant playing excerpts. Actually, a week of concerts in which he led the orchestra's soloists in as many complete works as it took would have been both more festive and more musically satisfying.
But there was another consideration: the concert was being broadcast on PBS as an installment of "Live From Lincoln Center," so everything had to be wrapped up - the programs, the saccharine introductions by Ms. Sills and a handful of encores - in a tidy two hours. As it happened, the broadcast ended before the last and best encore, Bach's "Air" from the Orchestral Suite in D (BWV 1068). The performance of the Bach was sweet-toned and even slightly brisk, and Mr. Masur capped it off with an unusually sentimental gesture: during its final moments, he slowly walked off the stage, letting the players finish on their own.
Putting the virtuosity of the Philharmonic's principal players in the spotlight is not a difficult trick, and Mr. Masur (as well as his predecessor, Zubin Mehta) did so consistently over the years by presenting them in concertos, including works commissioned for them. Still, one rarely encounters a performance of Ravel's "Bolero" for which all the solo players are named in the program book. The Ravel, along with the unconducted performance of Bernstein's "Candide" that opened the concert, the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Festival at Baghdad" from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," illuminated the fine state of the Philharmonic's ensemble playing.
Several memorable solo moments flitted past as well, including an appealingly soulful reading of the slow movement from Bach's D minor Concerto for Two Violins (BWV 1043), with Sheryl Staples and Michelle Kim as the soloists, and a Fandango by Joseph Turrin, played by Philip Smith, trumpet, and Joseph Alessi, trombone. Cynthia Phelps, the violist, brought a warm, throaty tone to a movement from a Dittersdorf Sinfonia Concertante, with Eugene Levinson as her partner on the double bass. And in a promising preview of their performance tonight at Tanglewood, the violinist Glenn Dicterow and the cellist Carter Brey offered a richly phrased performance of the finale from the Brahms Double Concerto.
Mr. Masur spoke briefly at the end of the program, partly to introduce the encores - Bernstein's "Mambo" from "West Side Story," Johann Strauss's "Egyptian March" and the Bach - but also to express his admiration for the orchestra and to tell the audience, "I'm still with you, and we don't forget the time here." The Philharmonic is a tough bunch, but at the end of the Bach, some of the players were in tears.