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Uncommon Trick in a Common Concerto
Steve Smith | The New York Times | 27 January 2012

Some of the buzz around the New York Philharmonic residency of the German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann this season has focused on the conservatism of his repertory. Mr. Zimmermann's distinguished discography includes items by Weill, Szymanowski and Ligeti, after all, and a West Coast colleague in the audience at Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday night fondly recalled accounts of works by Busoni and Britten played elsewhere.

By contrast, with the Philharmonic, Mr. Zimmermann has played Bach, Brahms and Berg. On Thursday he ticked another B off the list with a rendition of Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Yes, Beethoven's concerto is one you might never go a season without hearing. But the rendition Mr. Zimmermann gave with Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic on Thursday went a long way toward redacting memories of ponderously regal accounts led by Kurt Masur, and of Lorin Maazel's willful distensions and distortions in Beethoven.

What Mr. Zimmermann provided instead was fleet, clean and honest playing at a comfortably brisk pace in the outer movements, and a Larghetto of melting sweetness. He mastered the uncommon trick of sounding simultaneously authoritative and impulsive; in Fritz Kreisler's cadenzas he was positively incandescent.

Mr. Gilbert and the orchestra provided expertly calibrated accompaniment, with playing in the Larghetto so dewy that it threatened to evaporate outright. At the conclusion the audience responded tumultuously.

The second half of the concert showcased the orchestra to dazzling effect. Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, completed in 1945 and introduced by the Philharmonic the next year, was a steely, splashy remix of the composer's styles and methods. The jagged rhythms of "The Rite of Spring" and the breezy propulsion of "Petrouchka" fused with the lucidity and poise of Stravinsky's Neo-Classical works to striking effect in Mr. Gilbert's adrenalized account.

The concert ended with a voluptuous rendition of Ravel's "Daphnis et ChloƩ" Suite No. 2, with playing of liquid beguilement from the principal flutist, Robert Langevin. Predictable? Perhaps, but no less extraordinary for that.