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Away from Rachmaninov

New York
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
11/09/2016 -  & November 10, 11*, 12, 2016
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Piano Concerto No. 25 in C-Major, K. 503
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé

Daniil Trifonov (Piano)
Manhattan School of Music Symphonic Chorus and Chamber Choir, Kent Trittle (Director), New York Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski (Conductor)

D. Trifonov (© Nicolas Brodard)

The New York Philharmonic offered an interesting program juxtaposing one of the great piano concertos by Mozart with Ravel’s complete ballet music to Daphnis et Chloé. The orchestra was conducted by the Russian maestro Vladimir Jurowski, and his soloist was also Russian, Daniil Trifonov. For the Ravel work the combined choruses of Manhattan School of Music were added.

During the first part of the evening the stage was extended toward the audience, and its back had a full-length divider behind which the seats for the chorus were stored. That actually created much better projection of the solo piano. At the piano that evening sat the Russian virtuoso Daniil Trifonov, who last season during the Rachmaninov Festival had enchanted his audiences with several piano concertos and, with individual members of the NY Philharmonic, the same composer’s chamber music.

It was a long held belief that virtuosos who play great “romantic” concertos such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov rarely shine in classical repertory, especially Mozart or early Beethoven. That tendency seems to have disappeared, for as of the past several decades, the so-called “great virtuosos” are expected to perform any repertory with equal understanding of style and the ability to adapt their heroic technical approach to the demands of more modest scores. After hearing Trifonov’s interpretation of the majestic Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, there was no doubt in my mind that not only did he feel comfortable with Mozart’s score, but he also proved to be quite a stylist. His (playing in the) first movement was tender, smooth and finely-sculpted, delivered with a lovely touch and a pearly piano sound appropriate to the music. If I were to split hairs, it would be over his articulation in fast runs, which at times seemed a little facile. Ever the consummate musician, Trifonov made sure to engage in a chamber music dialog with the woodwinds whose parts are prominent in this concerto.
Unlike Alan Gilbert’s earlier approach to the orchestral tuttis, Jurowski opted for rather a spacious approach that emphasized the trumpets and tympani otherwise seldom employed by Mozart in his piano concertos. Although some audiences members commented that in the first of the four performances conductor and soloist didn’t totally agree on tempi, that was certainly not the case at the performance I heard Friday evening.
In the Mozart K. 503, the listener is often astounded by a theme that sounds very much like the famous French tune Marseillaise, which soon was to become a theme song of the French Revolution and later the national anthem. In the past there were even some speculations that perhaps Mozart was making a political reference. As it turns out the melody for the future Marseillaise was not composed until a year after Mozart’s death and five years after the completion of this concerto.
It is worth mentioning that Trifonov displayed a still relatively rare ability to fill in his own embellishments in the spare melodic lines and he did it convincingly and tastefully. Whereas the second movement Andante almost calls for that “treatment”, in the finale Allegretto one was struck by his audacity and inventiveness in ornamenting his solo part. Since he also is an acknowledged composer – this year he is also performing his own piano concerto – it was hardly surprising that he offered his own first movement cadenza, as Mozart didn’t leave one. There are two schools of thought regarding writing cadenzas for any classical era concerto: one is to adhere to the style of composer and remain within those bounds, the other is to show one’s own inventiveness regardless of the price. Famous authors of that second option were Arthur Schnabel, Benjamin Britten or Alfred Schnittke, who provided a daring cadenza to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Our Russian virtuoso, in his own inventive attempt, went sort of in between: on the one hand utilizing Beethovenian insistence on developing just a handful of motifs, and on the other, abandoning the tonal underpinning.

As usual with this artist, each performance was followed by a different encore: on Friday night it was a Gavotte from the Prokofiev ballet Cinderella. One observation about the very appearance of Mr. Trifonov: this time he was wearing a traditional white evening tie, something that seems to have disappeared from the stage, replaced by the omnipresent Mao jacket. It was so nice to see this pianist bowing to tradition!

Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé complete ballet score filled the second, nearly hour-long half of the concert. Here in addition to the large orchestra the stage was filled with the choristers of the Manhattan School of Music Symphonic Chorus and Chamber Choir, both under the tutelage of indispensable Kent Trittle.
Ravel’s official English title of the work commissioned by Diaghilev, reads Choreographic Symphony in Three Parts and one rarely hears all three parts: the individual suites are of course a staple of the repertory. It was good to have this wonderful Russian Maestro program it after an absence of almost 8 years. Jurowski not only knows the score intimately but impresses with his conducting style: precise, incisive, direct and as we experienced, very effective. The orchestra was in top shape. Woodwinds shone, the premiere role being given to the flute solo (excellently played by Robert Langevin). Even in this supposedly acoustically imperfect auditorium, the lush sound of the strings enveloped the listener while the barbarity of the score was brought forth by the percussion section. The chorus had a mostly wordless contribution, but one a cappella sequence with off-stage brass added later provided a memorable, thrilling moment.
I always wondered why Daphnis and Chloé’s concluding third part, with the final Bacchanal, sounds so much like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, with its frenzied, agitated character and luxuriant, rich orchestration, especially in the percussion section. It occurred to me that perhaps Ravel, preparing to complete the long postponed and delayed score for the Ballets Russes, might have been acquainted with Korsakov’s score, which was also one of the ballets of Michael Fokine, Diaghilev’s principal choreographer. But that is not to imply that the French master lacked his own inventiveness.
Jurowski left a great impression with his inspiring grasp of the score. His interpretation of Daphnis and Chloé can easily stand beside the one offered previously by the Philharmonic’s late maestro, Lorin Maazel. The audience rewarded the orchestra with the very much deserved standing ovation. My frequently expressed belief, that under the proper leadership this ensemble can sound as fine as any of the best orchestras around, again proved to be correct.

Roman Markowicz



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