BWW Reviews: BRAHMS (AND MORE) NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC at David Geffen Hall
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC
CONDUCTED BY SEYMON BYCHKOV
VIOLINIST, LISA BATIASHVILI, CELLIST GAULTIER CAPUCON
For the last century, the three B's of classical music have been Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and their catalogues remain the programming bedrock of most symphony orchestras around the world. On Friday, Oct. 23rd the New York Philharmonic gave a very strong argument for Brahms remaining at the very top of the programmatic choices. It was an extremely well-considered and magnificently executed combination of very old and very new (if you can say that about Brahms) selections that combined for a deeply fulfilling performance.
Russian-born conductor Semyon Bychkov has been a regular guest at the Philharmonic for over three decades and he rarely disappoints. This program based on two of Brahms' more well-known pieces along with a new piece influenced by Brahms. The concert began with the new piece entitled, "Brahms-Fantasie" by German composer Detlev Glanert (who was in attendance at the concert).
The work bears the subtitle "A Heliogravure for Orchestra" (a 19th century technique of adding chemicals to photographs to transform them) was written in 2012, although this was the work's New York Premiere. The work begins in Brahms-ian fashion, quoting loosely from his 1st Symphony in C Minor (not so coincidentally included in the program's second half). The work soon establishes its own identity verily far from typical late romantic structure into a far more modern frame work and unique orchestration. Maestro Bychkov navigated the complex rhythmic changes without incident and brought forth beautifully nuanced playing from his orchestra. Although the work returns to echo Brahms near its completion, the title "Brahms Fantasie" felt, to this listener, more than a little bit incongruent with the music. The work was certainly interesting and innovative enough to stand on its own without the reference.
Next on the program was the magnificent Double Concerto for violin and cello, Brahms final orchestral work. Violinist Lisa Batiashvili (the NY Philharmonic's Artist in Residence last season) and cellist Gautier Capuçon were paired as the work's soloists. The Double Concerto is a landmark in Brahms career. It is also a one of a kind sort of concerto in that it features very little straight ahead solo playing by the soloists. Rather it tends towards a more communal approach between the soloists featuring more unison playing that individual solos. The call and response style and the technique of soloists beginning and competing one another's phrases intermittently was handled with great virtuosity. Maestro Bychkov faded gently into the background -the perfect accompanist - drawing subtle but spirited playing from his orchestra in support of the soloists. The finale of the piece was a celebration of Brahms love of folk-inspired music and soloists and orchestra alike were positively exuberant. The audience responded with a standing ovation for both soloists and the orchestra.
The second half of the concert was dedicated to Brahms' Symphony #1. The Symphony No. 1 was composed over the course of two decades and remains one of Brahms (and the standard repertory's) greatest achievements.
The opening section of tension-filled, syncopated rhythms was played unusually slowly, stressing the undercurrent of the pulsating timpani. Maestro Beychkov drew forward the woodwinds and pizzicato strings in extremely exposed fashion - an interesting choice.
The second movement exhibited a chamber-like quality to the orchestra's playing. Of particular note was the sweetly lyrical playing of concertmaster Frank Huang during his solo section.
The third movement is a small masterpiece in itself, with a structure of scherzo, trio, scherzo reprise and final coda, is replete with rhythmic complexity and delicately interwoven lines.
The fourth movement began with a painfully slow introduction, which Maestro Beychkov clearly intended to highlight contrast in sections of the movement. When the "Alpine Horn" theme began, they were uncharacteristically forward in the blend rather than way off in the distance - another interesting and unexpected choice. The "Beethoven section" - arguable the composer's most ravishing melody in a career of ravishing melodies, was introduced with great exuberance as the conductor appeared to be floating above his orchestra. The very final triumphant section nearly blew the roof off of Geffen Hall. It was the most passionate and expressive playing this listener has heard from the Philharmonic is quite a while. It makes one wonder if Maestro Beychkov is being given any consideration for the Musical Director's chair that will be available when Alan Gilbert departs next year.
Classical Music Editor in Chief