By Lawrence Budmen

Just three nights after pianist-conductor Philippe Entremont and the Munich Symphony played Beethovenís Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major; Orli Shaham tackled that penultimate masterpiece in the Beethoven concerto pantheon with the New World Symphony on November 19 at the Lincoln Theater. While Entremont attempted to scale Olympian heights, Shaham offered a more intimate, lyrical approach that was closer to the scoreís Vienesse roots. 

Shaham is a serious, thoughtful artist. But her traversal of the Beethoven Fourth Concerto was a qualified success. The performanceís most effective moments were in the Andante where Shahamís soft, serenely phrased keyboards strophes indeed seemed to tame the orchestraís angry outbursts. In the Rondo finale there were moments of subtle, insightful phrasing. Yet Shahamís tone lacked color. There seemed to be two performances happening simultaneously. Conductor Alasdair Neale and the New World players offered hefty, virile Beethoven while Shahamís performance was smaller in scale, more chamber music oriented. 

Elgarís Symphony No.2 was dedicated to the memory of King Edward VII. This sprawling work is a musical summation of the Edwardian era. Neale is an ace Elgar interpreter. He has led the New World Symphony in eloquent accounts of the composerís First Symphony, Enigma Variations, and Cello Concerto. Neale brought big boned sonority and gleaming orchestral strength to Elgarís lavish score. The music is firmly planted in the romantic era, suggesting Brahmsís melodic warmth and Richard Straussís expansive orchestral patina but with a British accent. 

The brass fanfares of the symphonyís opening movement rang the rafters under Nealeís baton. He deftly illuminated the eerie mystery of the night music in the movementís central section. The incredibly beautiful Larghetto is the scoreís heart and soul. Nealeís deeply felt performance fully captured the musicís solemnity and heavenly beauty. The rich, full string tone recalled the glory days of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. Neale evoked both the playful and menacing aspects of the Presto. The coda of the exhilarating Finale was particularly striking as exquisite, soft chords on harp and winds weaved a musical epitaph for an epoch. Neale and his splendid musicians presented a masterful performance of a stirring work.

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