Monday, January 17, 2011

New York Philharmonic – Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano. January 16, 2011.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat S101, $65).

Con brio, Concert Overture for Orchestra (2008) by Jorg Widman (b. 1973).
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120 (1841/1851) by Schumann (1810-1856).
Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 83 (1878-81) by Brahms (1833-97).

This was our first concert for 2011, and I was kind of looking forward to it. The headline performers were certainly impressive enough: von Dohnanyi conducting, and Bronfman at the piano. It did not disappoint.

The first piece was written by a 37-year old German composer and clarinetist. The title “con brio” was definitely a tribute to Beethoven, and the program notes talk about how one could hear references to Beethoven’s various works, including several of his symphonies. However, “referring to” does not equate to “in the style of”, and the way the different instruments of the orchestra is used is definitely different than how Beethoven did it. I found the piece mildly interesting but ultimately disappointing. Trying to discern the references is the musical version of “where’s Waldo” and I didn’t care for that pictorial game very much either. There was a distinct Lenore Overture reference that I could hear, though.

The Schumann symphony was first composed in 1841, withdrawn, reworked, and republished about ten years later. These ten years turned out to be Schumann’s product symphony composition years. If there are problems with the orchestration, I couldn’t tell. The four movements are (i) Fairly slow – Lively; (ii) Romance: Fairly slow; (iii) Scherzo: Lively; and (iv) Slow – Lively – Faster – Presto. Even though it was supposed to be played without pause, the transitions were distinct enough that there was no doubt where they were. I wasn’t very familiar with the first two movements, but was very familiar with the last two. I don’t have the music in my collection, so it had to be listening to it over the radio over the years. Schumann seems to reuse his material a lot, but the overall music is simple yet delightful. The Concertmaster (Maples) had a good time playing the solo line (third movement). The line was not difficult, but she made a great sound.

We have seen Bronfman a few times; most recently at Princeton where he and Zukerman had a recital. This piece by Brahms certainly would be technically very difficult compared to the various sonatas he played at that recital. Somehow I misread the Program Notes and thought we were going to hear the first concerto. My confusion soon gave way to enjoyment of the initial calm passage. The four movements of the concerto are (i) Allegro non troppo; (ii) Allegro appassionato; (iii) Andante; and (iv) Allegretto grazioso. It is relatively long at about 50 minutes. In any case, we will be listening to the first concerto this coming Saturday, with Lupu playing.

To call Bronfman overweight is an understatement (someone has to say it), yet he is quite athletic in his movements. The playing was great, although he seemed to pound on the piano a bit more than necessary. The relatively short third movement has the solo cello playing most of the melody, often in the higher registers. I am amazed how accurate Carter Brey’s pitch was, but a bit disappointed at the sound of his instrument. Perhaps my misgivings about the sounds are due to our seat (Row S)? The audience couldn’t help themselves: they applauded after the first movement. This crowd does it quite often, and I am okay with it. Bronfman probably decided he would humor us by standing up and taking a slight bow, all in good fun. He did it again after the second movement. Good thing everyone decided not to play to game afterwards.

I was kind of hoping for an encore, but it wasn’t to be.

Anne had to go to Flushing in the morning and we met up at around 6 pm. I decided to drive in. The traffic was so light that it took less than an hour in either direction (about 50 minutes coming back). I guess this is the post-holiday quiet period.

The New York Times reviewer loved the concert.

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