Manager / Director:
Lafayette F. Harrison
Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
Price: $5 subscription; $1; $1.50 reserved
20 December 2017
“After sundry impotent growls and menaces the clerk of the weather concluded to let the Steinway Hall festival alone last night, as his ready response to the prayer of Elijah on the preceding evening to send down rain produced not the slightest effect on the attendance. The programme last night consisted of the beautiful pastoral symphony of Beethoven, Mendelssohn’s grand aria, ‘Infelice;’ the ‘Ave Maria,’ by Gounod—both sung by Miss Maria Brainerd—the first movement of Chopin’s concerto No. 2, in F minor, played by Mr. S. B. Mills; the overture ‘Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,’ and the ‘Mephisto Waltz,’ second episode from Lenau’s ‘Faust,’ by Liszt. Why the two last mentioned works should have a place on any respectable programme we are a loss to know. We have already given our candid opinion of them, and from a third hearing, see no reason to change or even modify it. There are, to be sure, some grand effects in the overture, but what are grand effects without unity of idea and purpose in an orchestral work? As for the ‘Mephisto Waltz,’ it is simply nonsense, and, had the well known old gentleman to whom it refers heard it, he would have made a precipitate retreat from earth and instantly returned to his warm dominions below. It is hard to be afflicted with Wagner and Liszt in the concert hall; but probably every nuisance is sent for some wise purpose. The works we refer to served last night to throw the merits of the other composers into stronger relief. Everything that an unsurpassed orchestra, with a competent, painstaking conductor could do with the vagaries of the crazy abbé and the other apostle of the ‘music of the future’ was done on this occasion, but without avail. Before leaving this subject we may say that Wagner intended his work as an overture to a comic opera. If that be his idea of a comic opera then deliver us from his tragic ones, at least those founded in the same school. Miss Brainerd, despite evident indisposition, sang the trying aria of Mendelssohn with the execution and style of a thorough artist. One of the most interesting numbers on the bill was Gounod’s delicious ‘Ave Maria,’ with violin, organ, piano and full orchestral accompaniment. The violin part was played by forty performers and the effect was inexpressibly grand. Mr. G. W. Morgan presided at the organ and Mr. Mills at the piano. A more clever or more beautiful adaptation of the first prelude by Bach could hardly be conceived by any composer. It was redemanded in the most enthusiastic manner. Miss Brainerd sang the soprano part very well. The concerto was admirably played by Mr. Mills, and in response to an encore he gave a rather dreary and uninteresting etude by the same composer. But the gem of the entire concert was the ever welcome pastoral symphony. We do not recollect ever hearing it played better before. The hundred instruments spoke as one and the most delicate nuances of expression were rigidly observed. In the third movement—allegro—the storm effect was rendered in an admirable manner. The conductor deserves much credit for the thorough efficiency to which constant and careful rehearsals and intimate acquaintance with the ideas of the composer brought the orchestra under his charge.”
“A very large and critical audience assembled yesterday evening, at Steinway Hall, to listen to the fourth of the series of concerts of the Musical Festival, now progressing under the direction of Mr. HARRISON. Next to the Tuesday evening Concert, in point of excellence, may this—last evening’s—Concert be held as the most interesting and attractive of the week. The programme contained quite a historically progressive selection from the works of BACH, BEETHOVEN, MENDELSSOHN, CHOPIN, LISZT, and WAGNER. Aside from the industry of Mr. HARRISON, the Manager, we desire hereby to testify our sincere regards for Mr. THEODORE THOMAS, who has not only in this instance, but who has on previous occasions given the New-York public specimens of the latest novelties not only, but has also exhumed and brought to light the works of BACH and other masters, while out own Philharmonic Society has been quite chary in presenting such works to its subscribers. Thus belongs the honor to Messrs. THOMAS and ANSCHUTZ for giving us the opportunity we had last evening of listening to WAGNER’S Vorspiel—Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—which is the prelude to the opera of the same name—a composition full of originality and breadth to thought. Too much praise cannot be awarded of the magnificence with which the subject is handled. The leading motif is a simple one—the four last tones of the diatonic scale. It was, difficult as it is, remarkably well rendered. Miss MARIA BRAINERD sang MENDELSSOHN’S beautiful Scena et Aria, ‘Infelice,’ and the ‘Ave Maria’ adapted from BACH by GOUNOD, with her usual ability and success. She is a painstaking singer, and is always welcome to the public. The accompaniment to the Ave Maria—quite novel in this instance—with the organ, piano and forty violins, produced a most magnificent effect, and a most tumultuous encore was demanded and complied with. We were delighted to hear once more the king of pianists in America—Mr. S. B. MILLS—who played on this occasion in his own inimitable manner the first movement of the F Minor Piano Concerto by CHOPIN. To say he played it as well as it is possible to play, is telling a trite story. We admire Mr. MILLS for his playing, especially at this time, when there is a feigning among some who consider themselves competent judges, that strict technique is not indispensable to good pianism. Mr. MILLS was very kindly received and at the close loudly and repeatedly encored, acknowledging with bows, and was prevailed upon to play again. As an encore he played the well-known CHOPIN’S Etude in C sharp, which he rendered most deliciously. The orchestra played the Mephisto Waltz by LISZT. It is such a fantastic and grotesque composition, full of wonderful and thrilling effects. It needs be heard oftener in order to form an intelligent and correct opinion. To us is this work as yet vailed [sic] in mystery. But in BEETHOVEN’S Pastoral Symphony, which formed the second part, and closed this concert, there is a distinctiveness and beauty combined with the utmost simplicity, so as to appeal to even the thoughts of a child. The orchestra performed the Symphony finely. The playing in the second movement was not quite as steady.”
“An interesting programme was presented last night at the Musical Festival, and the performance was a generally good one, Mr. Thomas with a powerful orchestra doing the greater part of the work and reaping by far the greater part of the glory. Miss Brainerd was the only vocalist. She sang Mendelssohn’s beautiful scena and aria, ‘In felice’ very fairly, though it taxed her powers rather too far, and Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ an adaptation of Bach’s first prelude, with organ, piano, and orchestral accompaniment, and a violin obligato played by 40 instruments. Mr. G. W. Morgan took the organ part, and Mr. S. B. Mills the piano. The piece was highly effective, and was repeated, though at the commencement a terrible blunder was made, so that Mr. Thomas had to bring the performers to a full stop after a few measures, and begin over again. Mr. S. B. Mills played the first movement from Chopin’s piano-forte concerto in F minor, No., 2, with the crisp, delicate, pearly touch for which he is famous, and won a great deal of applause, though we cannot but regard the composition as singularly uninteresting. The opening piece for the orchestra was Wagner’s Introduction to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Though it has but one movement it consists properly of three parts. The first is a series of vague but rich and impressive harmonic combinations, in which the brass instruments are given the prominence. Then comes a lively theme, almost in dance measure; and this is followed by a spirited allegro for the strings, remarkable for the quick rhythmical movement of the massive bass. Toward the end the brass strikes in, and the piece closes with a finely-wrought double theme. Though not free from Wagner’s characteristic extravagance and poverty of melodic inspiration, it is effective, and in many detached passages really beautiful. It was very well played, but still better, as a sample of the skill of the players and their excellent young leader, was the performance of Liszt’s repulsive ‘Mephisto Waltz,’ which closed the first part of the concert. We could think of nothing as they piled horror upon horror in that false, frightful piece of sensationalism but an orchestra gone crazy. They did their work admirably—but what a pity anybody should think it worth doing!
“The divine ‘Pastoral Symphony’ of Beethoven came upon us after this nightmare, like the breath of the violet-laden South. How sweetly when we have been cast down, irritated, outraged by the shams and fireworks of the modern mystical school, this inspired master lifts us up and refreshes us with the truth and poetry of nature. We turn away from the hot atmosphere of Liszt’s theatrical show, and Beethoven made us into the blooming fields, where we hear the rustle of the trees, the waving of the grain, the songs of birds, the patter of rain upon the leaves, and that voiceless psalm which the winds are perpetually singing among the branches of the forest. We join in the rustic dance, we linger by the babbling brook, and finally we lift our hearts to heaven in the ravishing song of peace and happiness which forms the closing movement of this exquisite composition. We shall not stop to criticize the performance of the Symphony, for though it was not so delicate as it might have been, it was good, and the last part, the allegretto, was especially creditable. We are glad to say that nothing came after it, and so with the echoes of that strain ringing in our ears we came away.”
“New York--…A fine selection was presented on Thursday night. For novelty a characteristic work by Wagner, for sensationalism the fiery, passionate ‘Mephisto Waltz,’ by Liszt, and for purity and perfection the green meadows and cooling streams of Beethoven’s exquisite ‘Pastoral Symphony.’ Miss Brainard [sic] and Mr. S. B. Mills were the soloists of the evening. Miss Brainard [sic] sang an Ave Maria arranged from Bach, by Gounod, with the novel accompaniment of an organ, a piano, and forty violins. The effect was most beautiful, as our readers can well imagine.”
“Musical Festival in New York…Concert No. 4 occurred on Thursday evening, and was mostly symphonic in character. Mr. S. B. Mills and Miss Maria Brainard [sic] were the soloists, and the programme was this:
Vorspiel, ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’…..Wagner
1st movement from P. F. Concerto, Op. 21…..Chopin
Ave Maria, adapted to Bach’s 1st Prelude…..Gounod
6th Symphony, Pastorale…..Beethoven
The Wagner ‘Vorspiel’ so full of power and grandeur, was perhaps better played than any of the other orchestra selections, not excepting the lovely Pastoral Symphony, in which the chief fault of performance was the dragging of the somewhat prolix Allegretto (2d movement). Curiously, the bizarre ‘Mephisto’ Waltz seemed very acceptable to the audience.
Mr. Mills has often played in public the 2d and 3d movements of the 2d Chopin Concerto (really written before the one usually denominated No. 1), but has almost always omitted the 1st. This omission he supplied on Thursday evening, but did not do himself justice; there was a very unusual and incomprehensible ‘muddiness’ about many of the rapid passages and much of his phrasing was weak. For an encore, he played a lovely Etude by Chopin, in C sharp minor, and did it admirably.
“The Ave Maria, arranged for soprano, violin, organ, piano and orchestra was a decided success and was very warmly encored; there was a little difficulty just at the commencement, where the organist seemed to be at fault. Mr. Thomas was obliged to suspend operations and begin again, and then everything went smoothly.”