Sir Neville Marriner sparks the New World in an energized night of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky

By Lawrence Budmen

Sir Neville Marriner led the New World Symphony in works of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky Saturday night at New World Center.

The venerable Sir Neville Marriner led the New World Symphony in orchestral blockbusters by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky Saturday night at the Arsht Center with violinist Isabelle van Keulen the sometimes frustrating soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Long known for his mastery of Baroque and Classical-era scores with the Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields chamber orchestra which he founded in the late 1950’s, the 86-year old Marriner has held major symphonic directorships in Minnesota and Stuttgart. While he walks more slowly than in times past, he remains a commanding figure on the podium, the beat clear and precise without excessive histrionics. Marriner brought his trademark tightly focused ensemble and bright textures to this large-scale romantic repertoire, the New World players clearly energized by his crisp, no-nonsense leadership.

Marriner ignited a firestorm with the spirited opening of Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, the strings vigorous and strongly defined. In the more contemplative central episode, he dared to linger over melodic phrases without losing rhythmic pulse. The sensuous melding of strings and winds was felicitous while the score’s brassy conclusion was given extra heft.

Isabelle van Keulen

The Mendelssohn concerto was more notable for Marriner’s impassioned leadership than Van Keulen’s small-scaled, earnest performance. It took the Dutch violinist most of the first movement to settle in, her tone sometimes wiry and the musical line skittish. She seemed to find her footing with a strongly accentuated cadenza, the passagework secure and well placed. Van Keulen exhibited some beautifully warm tone and wove a fine melodic crest in the Andante. The introduction to the finale was similarly intense but the Allegro molto vivace was wanting in verve and precision, with a sense of technical struggle palpable.

While Tchaikovsky’s turbulent Symphony No. 4 is not a score one would normally associate with Marriner, his lucid performance illuminated the work’s rhythmic impetus and balletic sweep. (Marriner often played this repertoire during his years as a member of the violin section in London orchestras under such giants as Furtwangler, Karajan and Monteux.)

The brass resounded impressively in the opening fate motif and Marriner achieved an enchanting lightness in the interplay of strings and winds, never succumbing to heavy-handed angst. With beautifully rendered solos by the New World’s first-chair oboe, bassoon, clarinet and flute players, the Andante sostenuto flowed graciously with Marriner bringing clarity to the string undercurrents of the evocative principal theme. The pizzicatos of the Scherzo sparkled while the contrasting march theme in the brass exuded high spirits.

With the opening cymbal clashes of the finale setting the tone, the movement zipped along at a devilish tempo. Only a brass slip at the reappearance of the fate theme intruded on a brilliantly executed orchestral performance. Indeed Marriner drew a fuller, darker sound from the New World strings, particularly in the melancholic interludes of the outer movements. The entire ensemble joined in applauding their ageless guest conductor.

The New World Symphony repeats the program 2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach. 305-673-3331;

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Sun Feb 20, 2011
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