24 March 2016
The competition of the young conductor Thomas has stirred up the “alte Herren” of the Philharmonics. Their program has improved greatly. Bergmann had attempted to initiate changes for a while, but his gentle manners kept him from overcoming the obstacles until now. The conducting talent of Bergmann and the thoroughness with which he leads the rehearsals, promise much enjoyment of his concerts. . . . In a newsletter Bergmann announces that he is planning to dedicate next season (not this one) to orchestral works in combination with chorus. He has already contacted the “Mendelssohn Union Chorus” which will support him.
Article on the upcoming Philharmonic season. Lists “leading instrumental features” of the season.
“This association of themists and symphonists are to hold their first jubilee of the present winter at Steinway Hall to-night. The tail-cost wearers and the high are recitalists are anticipating a cannibalistic feast of disjointed melody and slaughtered sounds.”
COMMENT: This NYS reviewer has harshly criticized the Philharmonic for the preceding two months.
“The Philharmonic Society did not turn out last night as strong in the instrumental line as we have heard them in previous concerts. Still their admirable ensemble, thoroughly artistic rendering and appreciation of every light and shade of orchestral coloring, under the experienced baton of Mr. Bergmann, always make their concerts enjoyable to those who appreciate the highest form of music. The programme of the first concert comprised the following works:--Schumann’s symphony in C No 2, Liszt’s Faust ‘vagary,’ Bristow’s Columbus overture, Beethoven’s piano concerto, No. 5 in E-flat; Mendelssohn’s soprano air Infelice, and an air from La Clemenza di Tito. We heartily congratulate Mr. Bristow on giving such a meritorious, broad, intelligent and well scored work as Columbus, and we must censure the directors of the society for placing it last on the programme. Why the senseless, whimsical piece of nonsense by Liszt should take precedence of such a work is more than we can account for. Independent of the descriptive character of the music, which was rather unnecessarily elaborated on the back of the programme, its intrinsic merits as a work of art are sufficient to entitle it to a prominent position among the very best works of the modern schools. The opening andantino is a beautiful undulating movement, and Mr. Bristow in it shows himself to be an adept in all the graces of expression and arts of coloring. An allegro agitato follows, interspersed with charming morceaux of the principal solo instruments—little themes, popular in form and clearly worked up. The succeeding fugue is largely treated, and the manner in which the march of triumph is brought in, increasing in loudness until it peals forth with the full power of the orchestra, is excellent. Unfortunately it came after Liszt, and a large proportion of the audience, disgusted, probably, with the Instrumentalische Zug, left, before they could discover what Columbus was. Miss Natalie Seelig, the soprano on the occasion, has a good voice naturally, but it is sadly in need of training. The style in which Mendelssohn was treated by her was amateurish in the extreme. Mr. Carl Wolfsohn displayed considerable taste and delicacy in the concerto, but, generally speaking, very little power or clearness. In the second movement, Andagio [sic] un poco moto, the softest passages dropped from his fingers, as delicate filmy webs of harmony, wreathed in delicious whisperings of the orchestra, distinct and sharp as diamond points. In the first movement and the finale his rendering was entirely too tame and indistinct. The concerto is not one, however, calculated to give much prominence to the piano, for it treats it more like a mere adjunct to the orchestra than a solo instrument. We know of no more brilliant or effective piano solo with orchestral accompaniment than the celebrated Henselt concerts. The wonderful chorded passages and massive treatment of this work make it one worthy of a Philharmonic concert. Added to Mlle. Camille Urso’s violin concerts, at the second concert in December, it would make the programme highly interesting. The hall was pretty will filled last evening, although a large proportion of the habitués of the Sunday concerts were absent.”
“An audience quite democratic, to say the least, in the matter of dress, attended the first Philharmonic concert of the season, at Steinway Hall on Saturday evening.
The independence displayed by everybody about what they put on, was eminently satisfactory to sensible folks, although it might have disgusted some people. At this festival of fashion half the ladies wore street bonnets and the men kept on their overcoats. It is not very long since certain writers set up a great cry about the ‘decay of art’ because they beheld a few strong-minded ones revolt against the foreign rule of ‘full dress,’ which was once considered absolutely necessary in all who attended the opera of any of these high-art performances, and who now come to them in comfortable business suits. The change which these wise revolutionists made was a change from staged formality to sensible comfort, and no more argued a vulgar inclination than old fashions argued good breeding and good manners.
It was always preposterous to think that any arbitrary fashion of ‘full dress’ could find favor in Republican America—a country where lawyers wear light coats and moustachios, doctors sport plaid breeches and divines box, smoke meerchaums, revel in embroidered braces—and see life! Let any manager in New York publish an edict (and as the London and Parisian managers do) prescribing tail coats, with cravats and pumps, to his audiences, and he will lose money enough to buy check shirts for all the Heathens in Africa.
If a select class desire to dress its male members in tail coats, and undress its ladies in corsages decollete (these styles are kindred we believe) for appearance at musical or operatic festivals then let them—but happily that class is limited and small beside our large class of Christians who don’t like to dress our men like cock sparrows or give our women the bronchitis. But there is no fear because we have degenerated (!) from tail coats to frock coats that we shall ultimately appear at places of public amusement in blue overalls and flannel shirts!
Now those in favor say Aye!
The Eyes have it, and do you know the reason why?
Because they see the propriety of their own conduct, and of our remarks.
Which, as Cyrus Field says at the Board of Directors, settles that!
It was eminently satisfactory, as we have said, to find such a democratic audience listening to the Beethoven ‘concerts’ and the Liszt Vagary and the Schumann Symphony of the Philharmonic programme on Saturday evening, in the handsome hall of wavy echoes which the Steinways have just erected in fourteenth street, within a stone’s throw of the Academy of Music. The gratification would have been complete, however, could we have felt that even one piece of the many elaborately given compositions had touched the innermost sensibilities of even a small percentage of the vast crowd which was present. The great effect that the exquisite torturings of sound had upon most of the audience though, seemed to be to make them sleepy. We detected more than one habitue of the Philharmonics, who would possibly rather have lost a dinner than miss this concert, indulging in a quiet nap during the ‘Beethoven Concerto No. 5 in E. flat.’ We watched with some amusement the artifice practiced by one of these ‘enthusiasts’ to deceive his neighbors into the belief that although his eyes were closed, he was not asleep. After many rehearsals, he had evidently educated his left foot into a sort of continuous time-keeping movement, which it pursued all through the slumber of its owner. The trick was only detected on Saturday evening by the polished castor of the individual rolling from his lap to the floor, and awaking him to a startled look, and to find a row of pretty girls and young men in the front seat, who had been keeping up a deal of silly whispering: all tittering at this little exposition of the hypocritical themist. The applause which was bestowed upon the certainly admirable instrumentation of the above-named works was as mechanical as the performance itself. It told of how little the spirit entered into the enjoyment of the affair. There was no warmth—no heart in either. The fact is, these elaborate compositions excite about the same degree of admiration which any clever piece of joiner work may; but as for stirring the pulses to fever heat, that they cannot do. The ‘artistic enthusiasm’ which they sometimes ‘revive’ is about as labored as the works themselves, and no more to be compared to the thrilling sensations which genuine musical inspirations call out than those patchworks of notes (the work of months) which the great masters have dreamed in a single beautiful vision. Mr. Carl Wolfsohn took charge of the piano in the Beethoven concerto, and his fingering, though thoroughly educated, failed to impress us as anything more than the result of study. It was entirely unemotional—although at times quite fantastic. Besides, amid the sweeter harmonic of the monster orchestra his playing was tame and indistinct. The solitary vocalist of the occasion was Miss Natalie Seelig. She handled Mendelssohn’s Infelice with rather more earnestness than reverence—by which we mean to say that she sang rather more after her own disposition than to the composer’s. She has evidently not yet learned to lose the little individuality she possesses and surrender herself to the spirit of the master whose works she gives voice to. The final piece on the Philharmonic programme was Bristow’s Columbus overture. It is one of those so-called descriptive works in which the sounds and sense is divided thus: all the sound for the audience and all the sense (that is to say the knowledge of what it is all about) for the composer. It has some pretty strains, however, which were appreciated by that remnant of the audience which had remained so long. The instrumentation of the work seemed to be all that could be desired. Indeed, the members of the Philharmonic are masters under a master (Carl Bergmann) and their performances are as near next to perfection as anything can be. It is not with ‘how’ they do we can find fault, it is with ‘what’ they do we disagree. If these superb musicians now would only leave the symphonies and themes for a while, and give a hungry public such a superb performance as they could, of music more appreciable, more intelligible to the vast populace, which loves to listen with its heart, and which applauds without gloves, they would never regret the trial. The musical sphynxes which the Philharmonic folks now scrape, and drum, and blow through, are really not enjoyed even by the audiences which listen to them. They are only appreciated by the deep thinkers, people who never applaud, who never smile, and who never pay for seats.”
“The Philharmonic Society gave the first concert of its twenty-fifth season at Steinway Hall last Saturday evening. We rarely look for a crowded house on such an occasion. There was no particular attraction to call the subscribers from their homes; nevertheless the spacious salle was well filled. The prospects of the Society are as good as ever. Neither good management nor bad management seems materially to affect its fortunes. It enjoys the enviable privilege of supplying a want with which the community supplies itself moderately and with relish. The programme opened with Schumann's symphony, No. 2 in C, opus 61—a fresh, vigorous work, which has steadily grown on the public and ripens with age. It was admirably interpreted by Mr. Bergmann, who, we are glad to say, still wields the conductor’s bâton, and it was splendidly played by the orchestra, which numbered 14 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 10 violoncellos, 9 double basses, 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarionets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, and 1 cymbals [sic]; in all, 77 players. The larghetto was finely phrased and balanced, and the succeeding allegro has never been heard to greater advantage. It is very difficult, and requires unusual steadiness and delicacy of execution, both of which were supplied. The second orchestral piece was the Nachtlicher Zug, an episode from Leanu's ‘Faust’ by Liszt. The composition is more remarkable for deliberation and repose than anything else. The linked sweetness is long drawn out. As in everything else by the same composer, he reveals all his knowledge of the orchestra, and slowly produces every effect of which he is cognizant. It is what Ruskin calls ‘a luscious form of nonsense.’ In the absence of Lenau's poem, (with which we are wholly unacquainted,) it would be vain to imagine what Liszt has arrived at. If his intent was to hit the public taste, he has failed of the mark. The repose to which we have referred is entirely on his part. To the public, the ‘Episode’ is irritating. The third orchestral work was a [illeg.] overture called “Columbus,” by Mr. G. F. Bristow. ‘The design of the overture,’ says the programme, ‘is to present in dramatic form a series of tone pictures illustrating some of the incidents connected with the discovery of this continent by Columbus, without, however, pretending to follow all the events, or to introduce them in the strict order of their occurrence.’ The limitation was, to say the least, judicious, and has been strictly observed. Mr. Bristow's work is exceedingly melodious, and although light and catching, is very interesting. The themes are spirited and the coloring brilliant and effective. The overture will no doubt be found useful for concert purposes. It is vigorously instrumented, and somewhat differently to what we have been in the habit of hearing from Mr. Bristow, who ordinarily clings affectionately to the symphonic style. Mr. Wolfsohn was the solo pianist. He played Beethoven's concerto in E flat with delicacy of expression and clearness. The gentleman is a devoted student of the great master, and steadily improves. The vocalist was Mlle. Natalie Seelig—a lady with a good voice, but an exceedingly bad method. The Philharmonic Society should have the best singers in the country, or none at all.”
“The New-York Philharmonic Society has had a splendid education. For 25 years it has practiced under able directors, every year adding to its efficiency, and rarely falling below a high standard, as an equality of excellence has been preserved by culling out the weak members and replacing them by more efficient men. This Society has one advantage that no private society can ever have. Being a professional society, in which each member shares pro rata of the profits, it can afford to have private rehearsals, in addition to public rehearsals, which are sources of profit, so, while such a course would ruin a private enterprise from the enormous cost it would entail, the Philharmonic profits at the same time that it increases its efficiency. To this fact must be attributed the brilliant position which it occupies to-day. It is not only immeasurably the finest orchestra on this Continent, but it has, for its size, scarcely a superior in Europe. We may well feel proud of this Society, for it represents nobly the musical progress of our country, and every thoughtful citizen should consider it a duty to give it a cordial and liberal support.
[List of program]
The symphony in C is one of Schumann’s finest inspirations. It is clear in design, from the beginning to the end. In it science is not paramount, but the melodious element, dignified by broad yet elaborate treatment, dominates and characterizes the whole. The first movement which is preceded by a thoughtful Lento, is vigorous and spirited, and is instrumented with wonderful power. It was brilliantly executed. The points of excellence were coloring most exquisitely shaded, positive subordination of one class of instruments where another class should be prominent and the short, sharp crispness of the chords, together with a general delicacy of execution both in the strings and the wind [sic]. The second movement, Scherzo and Trio, is a bold, imperative movement, full of character, and exceedingly beautiful. Its execution was without a blemish. The frequent changes of tempo which occur in this movement were given with remarkable smoothness, and produced charming effects. The promptness and delicacy of the wind instruments were specially admirable, the crescendos were singularly fine, the emphasis both strong and delicate, and the general solid unity of the execution worthy of all praise. The Larghetto is a composition full of intellectual and passionate beauty—a masterly combination of melody, imagination and science. This was played with wonderful tenderness and subdued sentiment, and was so delicately colored that it presented a picture of almost ineffable beauty. The wind instruments were superb; their answering passages did not come in like black spots upon a white surface, but were breathed and blended to an exquisite harmonious effect. We would suggest here to Mr. Carl Bergmann, that closer attention should be paid to the simultaneous bowing of the stringed instruments. It is due as well to the enjoyment of the eye as to the ear. It is painful to the eye to see bows up and down and mid-way, while executing the same passage, and in passages of emphatic delicacy or portamento, the cultivated ear can truly detect the want of purity in the bowing. The other players should regulate their bowing by that of the leaders, as rowers take their time from the stroke oar. A point so important should be insisted on rigidly.
The Allegro Multo orvace [molto vivace], is a bold and brilliant movement, the subject full of character and the whole treatment remarkable for the breadth and freedom of its passages for the stringed instruments, and the masterly management of the wind instruments. In brilliant and effective power, this movement could hardly be exceeded. Mr. Bergmann took it at a splendid tempo and kept his players up to their work with an easy control, which proved how fully he trusted them and how thoroughly they relied upon him. The performance of the whole symphony was a success, complete and unequivocal.
Fräulein Natalie Seelig has great dramatic force—a force altogether too demonstrative for the concert room. She has a voice of large tone, which in some portions is of excellent quality, but its schooling has been very bad indeed. Her somber voice has been carried up too high, so that in the utterance of the upper voice the quality is lost in a strained harshness which is painful to hear, both from the lack of quality and the over quantity and the frequent failure to reach the just and perfect pitch. Another result of this bad schooling is, that never using the clear voice, her singing is utterly without color, no fine shading is possible, and expression with her is simply singing louder. Again, never using a clear voice, her attempts at execution in the somber voice are labored, hard and inarticulate. The lady has evidently musical instinct and strong impulse, but they are inoperative against faults of education which have become permanent habits. After what we have said, it will be needless to remark upon her execution of the two noble scenas which were set down for her in the programme.
Beethoven’s Concerto in E flat, is a great work, but it is more a concerto with the piano than for the piano, as the orchestra absorbs the grandest thoughts. So large are these thoughts, indeed, that a master mind at the piano alone can command attention to its portion of the work. This is more especially the case in the adagio, which requires high and broad intelligence and tenderness of touch to interpret its dignity, sentiment and warmth. Mr. Wolfsohn’s interpretation of this movement was weak, lacking soul and character. It was smoothly and gracefully executed, but the earnestness and intensity of the conception met with no response from the performer. In the quick movements, Mr. Wolfsohn shone to greater advantage. He manipulates very brilliantly although in the bravura scale passages there was rarely perfect unity, and not always sufficient clearness, but still his general execution was intelligible and acceptable, and his promptness in tempo proved that he was well up to his work. Not to satisfy critical judgment, thoroughly, in the performance of such a work, is nothing derogatory to an artist, for there are few living pianists possessed of the necessary requirements. Mr. Wolfsohn is an excellent musician and an earnest and ambitious student, and we render him admiration and sympathy for his intelligent labors in a field of study so difficult as that of Beethoven’s piano works.
Lizst’s ‘Nächtlicher Zug’ is a weary, dreary senseless stringing together of catches of irreconcilable discords which mean nothing being but a pedantic display of his knowledge of harmony and instrumental combinations and effects, without one idea or salient thought. Considered as music, it is disgusting; it has isolated instrumental effects, which would be beautiful if they had relevance to anything, but we can only view them as experimental combinations, and devoid of any other meaning. It is a waste of time to produce these grim, fantastic absurdities, for they occupy the places which would otherwise be filled by sound, intelligible music. Mr. Bergmann did his best with it; it was splendidly executed, and we believe that his interpretation gave us as clear an idea of the conglomeration, for we cannot esteem it a composition, as could be presented by any director.
George Bristow’s fine descriptive overture, ‘Columbus,’ was a great relief from the cholernic [sic] symptoms left by the ‘Zug.’ It is a work that would do credit to any programme. It is clear and definite in design, pure and artistic in form, the subjects are well chosen and well worked, the picture is painted in natural transitions, and the thoughts are fresh, positive, and have marked character. In compactness and fitness, and harmonious consecutiveness of idea, it gives evidence of a master mind with imagination to invent, with resources to express, and with judgment to keep the level and the limits of the inspiration and the chosen form. The instrumentation of the work is also masterly. Its treatment in the orchestra proves Mr. Bristow to be a thoroughly practical scorer. He uses all the instruments with a brilliant freedom, with a power of contrast and a delicate coloring which prove that he is perfectly familiar with the character and resources of the material of an orchestra. This work stamps Mr. Bristow with eminence as a composer and the burst of applause and its continuance at the close of the overture proved that the highly critical Philharmonic audience appreciated and recognized its high merits. It was magnificently performed; every man in the orchestra seemed to feel called upon to do his best, and aided Mr. Bergmann in his successful endeavors to do justice to the work. Had it not been placed the last piece on the program, its repetition would have been enforced. Would it not be well to produce one of Mr. Bristow’s symphonies? It would be a well- earned compliment to one of the most efficient members of the Society and the works themselves are fully deserving of the honor.
We cannot but compliment Mr. Bergmann most cordially upon the brilliant success of this concert. Not only were the instrumental works given with a perfection never before reached in this country, but the accompaniments were irreproachable in their promptness and delicacy. He may well be proud of the materiel of his orchestra, and they, in turn, cannot but esteem it a privilege to play under so brilliant accomplished and so conscientious a leader.”
The concert was very well attended. The first piece, Schumann’s symphony no. 2, did not make a strong impression on the audience, though virtuously performed. In Natalie Seelig, we encountered a singer with a strong, fresh voice who only has to add to her artistic performance in the future to impress more. Wolfsohn played Beethoven with the usual perfect technique and deep understanding. The audience gave him raving applause. Liszt’s composition did not please at all. An Anglo-American critic went as far as calling it the work of an inhabitant of a mental institution. We don’t agree fully; however, the work does not contain what we expected to find.
Bristow’s “Columbus Overture” possesses pleasant passages and themes with pretty and skillful instrumentation. It seems the composer has a good knowledge of an orchestra.
Schumann’s splendid symphony was conducted efficiently by Bergmann. [Musical analysis and evaluation for Schumann’s symphony, Liszt’s “Nächtliche Zug” and Bristow’s “Columbus.”] Liszt’s “Nächtliche Zug” did not please us, because it lacked an appropriate ending; whereas Bristow’s piece ended in the first few measures already. We don’t want to deny Bristow the knowledge of an orchestra and its effect; however, if this is all you can do, you should not compose at all, at least not a portrayal of the representative of the New World.
Wolfsohn played the E-Flat concerto nicely; especially the second movement. In contrast, Seelig did not impress; neither with her voice nor her pitch and training.
“Schumann’s beautiful Symphony was finely played; although we think Mr. Bergmann took the tempi of the Scherzo and of the last movement much too fast. Both movements would gain in clearness and ensemble if played somewhat slower.
Unless we have the passage from Lenau's ‘Faust’—which Liszt here paraphrases, before our eyes, it is almost impossible to divine the composer’s intentions while we listen to the music. What is the meaning of this murmuring among the basses, this dramatic threatening of the deep clarinet tones, this bell-ringing, this catholic choral, which gradually winds through the whole orchestra? Spite of our acquaintance with Lenau's text, we could not admire the work, although it has moments of power naturally to be expected from a man of Liszt's calibre. As to that portion of the public immediately surrounding us, they laughed! being evidently in the dark as to the meaning of the work, owing to the absence of the passage from Lenau explaining it; which absence was all the more noticeable on the programme from the presence of the long explanation of Mr. Bristow's ‘Columbus.’
This overture does not indeed require an explanation, its meaning is easily understood; the march, the hymn, the three cannonades on the big drum, the trumpet signal all defile before us in an approved order; while the composer's melodies possess those features with which we are already well acquainted. The instrumentation of ‘Columbus’ gives evidence of Mr. Bristow's long orchestral experience.
Mr. Wolfsohn’s rendering of the Beethoven Concerto was on the whole rather unsatisfactory. It is only an artist of a deep spiritual and poetic nature who can make us forget in a measure his deficiencies in the execution of certain technical difficulties which are necessarily encountered in a work of this class. Mr. Wolfsohn appears to comprehend in part how Beethoven should be played, but he has so far only mastered him in one direction, we mean: in the smaller details. Breadth of conception fails him. In the performance of those parts of Beethoven's compositions which most impress us with the sense of greatness, Mr. Wolfsohn is, to use a slang expression, ‘not quite up to the mark.’
Miss Seelig possesses naturally a fine and powerful mezzo-soprano voice, but unfortunately in spite of this great advantage, her want of school and style are constantly apparent.”
The concert was well attended, almost sold out. The program was appealing and most performances were excellent which made up for the less satisfying part.
The vocal part of the program lay in less artistic hands which was gallantly accepted by the audience. After all it was a debut of a lady. We join this response and are silent about the performance at this time.
Liszt’s “Nächtlicher Zug” was not to our liking. The composition is too slow and monotonous. Thomas’ presentation of Liszt’s preludes at Irving Hall four weeks ago was a much wiser move to advocate Liszt’s compositions than choosing the “Nächtliche Zug”.
Bristows “Columbus overture” did not create strong enthusiasm in the audience, either.
The highlights of the evening were the performances of Schumann’s 2nd symphony and Wolfsohn’s playing of Beethoven concerto.
The performance of the orchestra was in all its aspects excellent. The musicians play with accuracy, sensitivity, a good sense of dynamics and flowing transitions. However, the second movement, scherzo, of the symphony was played too hastily and the conductor could have slowed down his musicians in the larghetto.
Wolfsohn’s Beethoven performance received the most applause of the concert. Wolfsohn’s dedication to Beethoven is very apparent when one hears the flawlessness of his presentation.