Energy From a Composer Can Fuel a Player’s Flight

11.14.08
Gil Shaham
The New York Times

Shostakovich described the outlook of the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, his friend, “as a basically optimistic, life-asserting view of our reality.” The violinist Gil Shaham is certainly ideally suited to convey the energetic optimism of Khachaturian’s difficult, folkloric Violin Concerto, which he performed with the New York Philharmonic, led by the Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko, on Wednesday night at Avery Fisher Hall.
Mr. Shaham, a highly physical player, appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself, often walking over to the podium and smiling broadly at Mr. Boreyko. His enthusiasm came across in his playing, with his powerful, luscious tone particularly admirable in the first-movement cadenza and the soulful interludes of the slow second movement.

He soared through the acrobatic solo part, almost threatening to leave the orchestra behind on a few occasions. Mr. Boreyko led a full-blooded, bristling reading of the rhythmically driven score, highlighting the details of the folk-infused melodies and exotic harmonies derived from Armenian modes and scales.

Anatoly Lyadov’s tone poem “Kikimora” opened the concert on an equally colorful note. This programmatic miniature is inspired by the legend of a witchlike creature from “Tales of the Russian People” by the 19th-century writer Ivan Petrovich Sakharov. It begins with an eerie rumbling of the lowest strings and ends, whimsically, with a single note on the piccolo. The storytelling is evoked with a mournful English horn melody, chromatic wind melodies, sighing violin motifs and string tremolos.

Lyadov was a noted procrastinator and failed to produce anything after Diaghilev commissioned him to write a score for the Ballets Russes’ production of “The Firebird.” So Diaghilev turned to the then unknown 28-year-old Stravinsky, who embraced the task and later wrote three suite versions of his “Firebird” score. On Wednesday Mr. Boreyko led the Philharmonic in a lithe, vividly rendered performance of the suite from 1919, which uses a smaller string section.

The program also included “Abii ne viderem” by the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, in which lone notes by instruments including the alto flute and piano are interspersed with dramatic outbursts of rapidly ascending string motifs. Using dynamic extremes from ppp to ffff, Mr. Boreyko effectively contrasted the soft, lyrical interludes with the violent eruptions.

With its mystical moments of silence, the work was a meditative voice in an evening of riotous color.