Sin and Circuses
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
04/11/2013 - & April 12, 13, 2013
Olivier Messiaen: Les Offrandes oubliées
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
Tristan Murail: Le Désenchantement du monde (U.S. Premiere)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 36
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Pianist)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, David Robertson (Conductor)
D. Robertson (© Michael Tammaro)
When David Robertson comes to town, nothing with the New York Philharmonic is ever what it’s expected to be. Last night, a Beethoven symphony was translated into a circus of sounds. The forbidding Tristan Murail piece for piano and orchestra was a transparent classical concerto. A Mozart concerto was, like a rock in a Japanese garden, the diversion which made the other music so brilliant.
And the opening, Olivier Messiaen’s first published work, Les Offrandes oubliées (“Forgotten Offerings”), into a work of such transcendent beauty that one could have gone home after these first 14 minutes and still remembered the concert. The opening is a velvety continuous line by the strings, and Mr. Robertson held these notes with the same timbre, the austere, sensitive phrasing, almost like a one-note prayer. But Mr. Messiaen was never a static or minimalist composer, and he followed this “Crucifixion” with violent movement headed by bass drum gunshots (human sin).
The ending, under Mr. Robertson’s baton was as touching as anything ever written by Messiaen. The Eucharist here was played softly on high harmonics muted strings. As they edged heavenwards, one realized that Mr. Messiaen and Mr. Robertson had given us a Kyrie Eleison for orchestra, a divine silence transmutated into music.
P.-L. Aimard (© Courtesy of the Artist)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard was soloist in two works which–on the surface–couldn’t have been more dissimilar. That Mozart 23rd Concerto is one of the most familiar in the repertory, and Mr. Aimard ran through it as if taking a gentle stroll. His fingers had a riverine fluidity, his phrasing was perfect, his innate brilliance was so painless that he could have been sleepwalking.
Such familiarity, though, has its downside. The first two movements were so predictable that they were boring. And such little care did Mr. Aimard take that toward the end of the Allegro assai, he tripped up, played one run too many and caught Mr. Robertson unawares. They straightened things out in a measure or two, but sent two messages:
1. When a work is played with such perfection, a sudden accident makes it interesting. 2. No pianist should take anything for granted.
A simple redemption would have been enough for the American premiere of Tristan Murail’s Le Désenchantement du monde (“The Disenchantment of the World”), the title coming from an idea by sociologist Max Weber about the disappearance of magic and mysticism with the coming of knowledge). But Mr. Aimard showed that when he had to think about the music instead of simply “reciting” it, he is a master technician and artist.
Murail’s “Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” (New York Philharmonic co-commission with Bavarian Radio, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra), composed last year, was both complex and simple. The complexities were in the sounds, which, while difficult to hear with the huge tapestry of the orchestra, were divided into microtones. Six of the woodwinds were tuned a quarter-tone lower than their colleagues (the orchestral forces calling for three of each wind instrument). The orchestra itself–which included a “contra-bass tom-tom” amidst its sizeable percussion–was large and gave large “sheets” of music. That is, they played grand sounds, massive chords. But these were played almost like a concerto grosso against the single solo instrument, Mr. Aimard’s piano, which went running up and down the scale. Rather, Mr. Murail’s personal scale, which repeated itself with variations to the end of the 27-minute work.
Structurally, it was like a Classical piano concerto. A slow beginning, then fast, slow and fast movements linked together. Those first two splashed out with technical force, though at times it resembled–oh horrors–like a sampling of a Saint-Saëns concerto, knotted and twisted around. Perhaps that was Mr. Aimard, being such a Gallic artist that all his music had a Gallic sameness. The last movement, though was an obvious homage to Messiaen, Mr. Murail’s mentor, with the same colors of orchestra and soft gongs.
In a way, it was soothing, almost sentimental, lovely, having anything but the disenchantment of the title.
Mr. Robertson was the forcible technician here with the Philharmonic. When it came to the finale, Beethoven’s Second Symphony, he turned into a very forgivable showman. This was Beethoven in the most ebullient of spirits, and methinks the composer would have forgiven turning the Adagio molto into an Andante, and the Larghetto into a Tranquillo.
The conductor never let a single measure go without gesturing Beethoven’s happy inanities, his mock-sentimental phrasing, his fake endings. Mr. Robertson let us graphically see all the nuances, he lifted his feet, cocked his head, turned back and forth to each side of the orchestra, to show that he–as well as the orchestra and the audience–should have as much fun as the 31-year-old Titan-to-be Beethoven had when composing it.