A little heard post-World War II German rumba

Posted: November 19, 2012

CAMDEN - Post-World War II Germany no doubt needed a good rumba, but who would have thought the furrow-browed modernist composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) would be the one to provide it?

His 1950 Violin Concerto was heard in an extremely rare outing thanks to violinist Leila Josefowicz and Symphony in C under Rossen Milanov on Saturday in the sort of performance that showed how easily worthwhile works get lost.

Compared to the composer's great but grim, fiercely atonal opera Die Soldaten, the Violin Concerto is an easily apprehendable, midweight piece with the clarity of intent and rhythmic energy of Prokofiev. It's also full of inventive keyboards and harp effects (particularly apparent in the acoustics at Rutgers-Camden's Gordon Theater) that anticipate his ingratiating Oboe Concerto and hugely original Cello Concerto.

Back to the rumba: Using an Afro-Cuban dance that gave the concerto's final movement wonderful energy signified a moment of liberation after the years when the Nazis banned almost anything that wasn't culturally Aryan. Now, Zimmermann's cultural mixture makes the concerto seem more current, given how Latino composers are all the rage these days.

Josefowicz was at her lyrically concentrated best, playing the piece as though she'd known it for years, while Milanov led a surprisingly confident orchestra through the piece's rhythmic riots.

The rest of the program included the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, which made sure the audience left happy, even though the playing was a bit scrappy. More canny was the program's opener, Prokofiev's cheerfully polytonal Lt. Kije Suite, a satire of the militaristic world the composer portrayed more seriously in his Alexander Nevsky score (performed that night by the Philadelphia Orchestra). Milanov's thoughtful instrumental balances and unflashy tempos insisted that your ears go beyond Kije's tunes and softened you up for Zimmermann. A terrific performance.


Contact David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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