A Racist Movement Cannot Move

Radicals of the mid-20th-century avant-garde did not wait long after Bartok’s death in 1945 to savage some of his final works. Writing in Sartre’s influential journal Les Temps Modernes, the critic and musician Rene Leibowitz assailed Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra as a creative “compromise” — a word that carried a nasty ring in post-World War II Paris.

Many in Leibowitz’s circle followed suit. The firebrand philosopher and critic Theodor Adorno credited only Bartok’s “youthful pieces” as holding an essential “aura of strangeness.” Everything else? Too crowd pleasing.

But heard on Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, during a concert by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Bartok’s concerto didn’t seem all that conservative. The opening and closing movements hit their flashy, fiery climaxes, as required. Yet the orchestra and its music director, Kent Nagano, who announced this summer that he would step down at the end of his contract in 2020, brought some peculiar zest to the work’s less extroverted passages.

Bartok’s second movement, “Game of Pairs,” has a succession of wind-instrument duos that move in parallel motion. While the bassoonists, oboists and clarinetists navigated their jaunty, folk-like melodies, the trilling violins played in the background with a metallic sheen, adding a suggestion of bleakly beautiful winter light.

Photo
Maxim Vengerov playing with Mr. Nagano and the orchestra. Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

The orchestra excelled in the contrasts of the fourth movement, with the strings channeling fervid passions and the brasses taking a jeering delight in their disruptions. Mr. Nagano balanced the work’s disparate parts to create a kind of casual excitement: This famous piece didn’t sound predictable, nor did it strain too hard after unique effects.

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The rest of the concert wasn’t quite as revelatory. A rendition of Brahms’s Violin Concerto — with Maxim Vengerov as soloist — thrilled during some high-octane passages, but sometimes also sounded labored. The violinist favored a hard-edged tone, appropriate for aggressive, double-stop-strewn material in the first movement but less ideal during the Adagio.

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/arts/music/review-nagano-montreal-carnegie-bartok-brahms.html?ref=todayspaper

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