Friday, December 10, 2010

Sir Colin Davis and Nikolaj Znaider with the NYPhil: Mozart and Elgar

Thanks to a friend's invitation, I threw caution and editing to the winds and spent Thursday night with the New York Philharmonic.  It was an evening of excellent performances: I confess to being intellectually and emotionally tired by the conclusion, as well as exalted.  I'm not sure that makes sense in print; the best way I can find to explain it is that the commitment of the artists created a need for listening which was committed not only to receiving but to reaching out, to conscientiously gathering in every last detail that I could possibly soak up, while feeling that a great deal was flowing past before I could quite understand what made it extraordinary.  This was enriching, and rewarding... and tiring! (I feel that I should also offer thanks to Mark Berry, who writes erudite and entertaining prose over at Boulezian, and whose encouragement gave an extra spur to the decision that in the grand scheme of things, an extra evening away from books and laptop could and should be spared.)

Elgar's Introduction and Allegro sounded burnished and rich, with the structure so cleanly delineated that I could grasp the substance behind the sheer sweep of it.  All of the artists in the quartet gave fine performances, and the rich harmonies unfolded with an elegant precision that created a luxurious whole.  The rendition of Mozart's 36th Symphony (Linz) was the kind of thing that would entirely spoil me for lesser Mozart conducting if I had the musical memory of my Respected Father.  Phrasing and dynamics were subtly shaded, giving significance to even the most delicate alterations in each.  The humor and delight in the piece were reveled in without hinting at triviality, and watching Sir Colin enjoy the music was a joy in itself.

The Elgar violin concerto, given last, astonished me.  The first movement alone was an intense journey... and then it kept going!  Znaider and Davis have recorded the work.  (If you go here and scroll down, you will find a brief video of soloist Nikolaj Znaider discussing the piece.  An interview Znaider gave to Jessica Duchen in connection with the London performances has more details.)   Nikolaj Znaider was an incredible presence on stage; obviously it's a subjective judgment, but he struck me as having an unusual force of charisma.  His manner, however, could not have been further from what I might call "showmanship"; his posture was erect, movements controlled, expressions serious to the point of being grave.  His playing struck me as intensely focused, with nothing excessive.  This is not to say that it was cold; quite the reverse, for me, as what the composer described as the piece's "awfully emotional" nature was reinforced by the unsentimental approach to it.  Sir Colin Davis was equally committed; the overall effect was one of uncompromising beauty, beauty that demands something.   The only conclusion is that of Rilke's "Archaïscher Torso Apollos:" Du mußt dein Leben ändern.


  1. That is quite true about the charismatic force of seriousness of Nikolaj Znaider during the performance. I was seated on the 3rd row (C) 106, so right in front of the violinist, and could observe his intense playing from a very short distance. Quite expressive and accentuated, emotional in his movements performance and deeply focused face. I had a chance to be at the priviledged seating at the open rehearsal in one of the 1st rows that same morning, which gave me a completely different impression on Nikolaj's personality: quite warm and playful and relaxed during the reahersal, he was brave enough to come over to say hello to me in front of two-thousand audience and wave me from the stage. It was quite different during and after the concert perfomance. He was quite focused and shy even during the three-times-called-back ovation. His eyes were closed most of the concerto as he was playing the violin out of his emotionally charged dreams... It is quite an interesting mix of personal qualities, along the unquestionably high talent. Sort of enigmatic charm and quickly changable mood, like a natural course of Elgar's "Enigma Variations", suits Nikolaj on a profound level as a part of his mysteriously quiet but bright personality. Therefore, very changing, romantic, passionately dramatic and emotional pieces suit him most.
    In my opinion, Nikolaj is one of the very few strongest, absolutely incredibly talented violinists in the world of out times, not just due to the personal friendly connection to the artist, but simply and primarily for the reason that I've never seen a more moving and expressive perfomance in all its acpects than this one (or his perfomance of Tchaykovsky concerto for example). And I saw quite many world-famous violinists performing live, even in spite of my comparatively young age (25-30).
    Even a friend of mine who is not a big fan of classical music and came to the concert by chance, was so deeply impressed by Nikolaj's playing, that he certainly could never expect such an emotional influence and can be counted as another newly born fan...
    Elena N. F.

  2. Good to hear that Znaider's artistry is making converts. I did find his remarks in the linked interview about his personal connection to the Elgar very interesting. I was struck by the warm rapport between Znaider and Sir Colin Davis during the applause; good to hear that the Serious Artist relaxes.

  3. Sounds like I have to go to a concert with Nikolaj Znaider here in Dresden with @StaatskapelleDD. Experienced him in an interview a couple of weeks ago at @SemperoperDD. Amazing energy which flows through him into the audience :)!/RalfLippold/status/120483661442318336

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