Monday, November 10, 2008

New York Philharmonic - Christoph Eschenback, conductor; Lang Lang, piano. November 8, 2008.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 2 (Seat D16, $54)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (ca 1795/1800) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1887-94; ed. Orel, 1934) by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896).

We attended this concert with the Yangs. Had dinner at sushi-a-go-go across the street. We managed to get 3 pre-concert talk tickets for the 4 of us, so I (being the knowledgeable one, just kidding) went to Starbucks and had coffee by myself. The Program Notes for today's concert are not that informative, more historical than musical. It talks about which was really Beethoven's first piano concerto, and that Bruckner died before completing the 9th symphony (although he had written about 200 pages of notes for the last movement). Interesting, but didn't add to my appreciation of the pieces.

Beethoven's concerto had a strong hint of Mozart to it, which is to be expected given when it was written. The three movements are Allegro con brio; Largo; and Rondo: Allegro. It's an enjoyable piece. I was a bit disappointed at Lang Lang's performance, especially since we heard Andre Watts play the piece several months ago. I was very impressed with how Watts brought out the structure of the piece. Lang Lang failed to do so, which is made worse, in my opinion, by his penchant for showmanship. The cadenza he chose was written by Beethoven (I am not familiar with it), it just sounded too long and I actually wished that it would end earlier than it did. The second movement's lead in by the piano was wandering and unfocused. Nonetheless, the crowd gave the performance a standing ovation, which I attribute to "name-recognition" rather than true appreciation. In any case, Lang Lang the musician isn't quite at the level of Lang Lang the virtuoso yet.

The Bruckner symphony's three movements are (i) Feierlich, misterioso; (ii) Scherzo: Bewegt, Lebhaft; Trio: Schnell; and (iii) Adagio: Langsam, Feierlich. Since I don't know Austrian (I'm not sure there is such a language), and have forgotten most of my German, I needed google-translate to know (a) feierlich = solemnly; (b) misterioso = mysteriously (not even a German word); (c) bewegt = with movement; (d) lebhaft = vividly; and (e) langsam = slowly. The actual performance was longer than the advertised 59 minutes; imagine what it would be like if Bruckner got to finish it. Anne and I were quite sure we heard this before, played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, but the piece sounded unfamiliar. And I probably will say the same thing when I listen to it next time. Not that it was unpleasant, just that I didn't quite get what Bruckner was trying to say. In any case, the piece calls for four Wagner Tubas, which (according to on-line resources) is a brass instrument somewhat like a horn and a tuba combination. It evidently comes in different sizes and pitches.

The Wagner Tuba (in F)

Eschenbach is an energetic conductor. He did both pieces without music, I guess he is another of those whose mind remembers millions of musical notes. He seems to concentrate on one section at a time, and expects the rest of the orchestra to know when to begin and end a note or a phrase. Overall it worked fine, but every now and then the orchestra sounded sloppy. He is German but has had many prestigious international appointments.

This would have been a great concert had I not have such high expectations of it. The New York Times gave a mostly positive review of Lang's performance, calling the cadenza "beyond reproach", although the reviewer thought it was at times excessive also. We didn't get the encore performance the review did the previous evening.

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