One Dream Trumps A Pair of Fantasies And A Rhapsody
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
09/18/2008 - & Sept. 19, 20, 23
Steven Stucky: Rhapsodies For Orchestra
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Opus 30
Maurice Ravel: Suite From Mother Goose
Béla Bartók: Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin
Yefim Bronfman (Piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (Conductor)
Yefim Bronfman (© Dario Acosta)
Less than 24 hours after their Gala Opening, the New York Philharmonic got down to serious business. An American premiere by a prominent composer, and three works from the 20th Century century, almost unheard of in the Phil’s conservative repertory.
It was interesting in another way. The first half had a one-movement series of rhapsodies (the composer’s own description), and the second half consisted of two fairy-tales, the first a gentle series of fantasy lullabies, the second a ghastly story to scare the socks off any child who heard it.
Yet all three works were trumped in a special way by the familiar Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, played, by Yefim Bronfman, as expected, with almost superhuman ease. The man has such strength, force and Promethean energy in his little pinky, that when he plays anything, the intensity is totally tactile.
The Third Concerto can only be played by masters, yet Bronfman made it sound both highly lyrical and passionately emotional. The concerto can be played Horowitz-style with all the pauses and almost vocal exclamation points. From the beginning, though, Bronfman played with a liquid flow, continuing even during the whirlwind passages with transparent phrasing. Bronfman took the extended cadenza (the composer had written two), which, with its heavy chords complemented his understated bravura.
The Intermezzo was radiantly beautiful, and the finale, which can blaze like wildfire, was shaped under Bronfman’s hands into energy controlled until the last brilliant bars.
The result I have never seen before in Avery Fisher Hall. The audience—the entire audience—stood up spontaneously as one in applause. The usual fugue of one person then dozens, then hundreds was missing. Instead, this was an organic gut reaction to great playing..
The evening opened with the American premiere of Steven Stucky’s relatively short Rhapsodies, an impressive work commissioned by the Phil and the BBC Proms. Stucky is a man who so evidently loves the sounds of the orchestra, and this ecstatic work gave him all the chances he needed. Each “mini’rhapsody” would start with a solo (piccolo, English horn, trumpet), and these instruments would pick up other soloists, usually of the same family, all of this over the murmuring sounds of the orchestra.
The particular crescendos showed both a mastery of the orchestra, and an undisguised sense of rapture. But equally a recognition that raptures can be limited, since Stucky ended fairly quietly.
An awful lot of music was made in its 12 minutes, all of it lyrical, painted with extravagant colors and ecstatic delight.
When, in the second half, Lorin Maazel took on Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) his Francophile predilections virtually shouting—with the most delicate tones, of course—that this is the music he loves. Like his classic recording of L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, Maazel had a pinpoint sensitivity to this most delicate of fabrics. Yes, the soloists were at their best (especially contra-bassoonist Arlen Fast with his instrument reaching down to the bottom), but it was evident that Maazel had painted the fairy tale with the most minute particles of musical fairy dust.
There was more fantasy to come, this “Scenes from Miraculous Mandarin” (Bartók’s own title). Maazel commanded his troops to play with all the dash and brassy dissonance capable. But this gory tabloid-story tale of prostitution, torture and agonizing murder, makes little sense without the scenario. The usual dozen-odd in the audience walked out (an obvious compliment to the powers of the conductor), to others it was an attractive mishmash. Little seemed Hungarian, much of it was simply strident, but one longed for the entire ballet.
Still, this was a concert of fantasy, played with the Phil’s soloists at their best, and the guest artist experiencing what must be every artist’s most fantastic Manhattan dream.
Steven Stucky’s website