24 July 2015
Edward SeckersonAttention is most surely paid at the start of Nielsen’s Violin Concerto
: that startling Bach-like Praeludium over pedal point is as disarming as it is unexpected. And just as Nielsen so memorably asserted that he sought to creep into the souls of the instruments featured in his three concertos, so Nikolaj Znaider inhabits what follows—an ever-shifting landscape, now Arcadian, now remote, now craggy. The graceful first subject is most elegantly attended, a consolation and a surprise after the rigours of the opening pages. But there is swagger and chivalry yet to come. This first movement is almost a concerto in itself and Znaider makes capital of its variety and unpredictability.He is searching in the slow movement
—a kind of elaborated ‘bridge’ across the two halves of the piece. That it seems to teeter between major and minor tonalities only intensifies the uncertainty of where it might be taking us. And then there is Znaider, the folksy fiddler, and all he wants to do is make us smile—and dance. A rhythmic bow arm dictates the footwork; the Maskarade dances quite literally spring to mind. The recording offers what might be termed a natural concert-hall balance from a decent seat in the front stalls.The Flute Concerto goes a long way towards redefining the instrument’s true nature
and persuading naysayers that it can be more than just a breathy cypher. Nielsen has it butching up its act no end in the face of marauding timpani and solo trombone. Robert Langevin—principal of the New York Philharmonic—has, of course, the distinct advantage of the telepathy that goes with familiar colleagues to sharpen interaction. For once, though, he is Player King; and from the magical moment where he finds natural repose in one of those gorgeously airy tunes that Nielsen always pulls out in opposition of antagonistic elements to his unlikely betrothal to the aforementioned trombone, the variety of the writing is remarkable. There isn’t an uninventive bar in the piece.Throughout this disc Alan Gilbert and the NYPO play on the kinship
that exists between the symphonies that effectively gave the Flute and Clarinet Concertos breath. The latter is a substantial chip off the block that is the Fifth Symphony—and even has the clarinettist bring his old sparring partner, the side drum, with him. NYPO principal Anthony McGill revels effortlessly in its wild improvisatory nature and those elemental pyrotechnics. It’s dark, furtive and distracted—a kind of nervous breakdown of a piece—and there’s nothing like it in the repertoire. Ditto all three works.