Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New York Philharmonic – Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, conductor; Augustin Hadelich, violin. October 20, 2012.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.  First Tier (Seat CC101, $69.50.)

Symphonie espangnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21 (1874) by Lalo (1823-92).
Symphonie fantastique: Episode de la vie d’un artiste (Fantastic Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist), Op. 14 (1830) by Berlioz (1803-69).

This concert wasn’t in our original subscription for the season.  Because we changed our plans for October 4 (we saw Il Travotore), we switched our tickets for tonight’s concert.  I was surprised to see my name on the "Repeat Subscribers" insert, how efficient of them.

Anne was in Flushing earlier in the afternoon, and left a bit after 5 pm.  Traffic on the Queensboro Bridge and the East Side was so bad that by the time she got to the Lincoln Center area it was past 7:30 pm.  We put the takeout food I got from Ollie’s in the car, and instead each had a small sandwich (slider) at Avery Fisher Hall before the concert started.  We ate the takeout after we got home; nothing got wasted.

The Lalo piece is familiar to most violin students, and I have known it since high school.  As a show piece written with Sarasate in mind, it is not impossibly difficult to play, but sounds just great.  The Program Annotator remarks that the best Spanish music is written by French composers.  Lalo’s ancestry was Spanish but the family had settled in France for a long time by the time Edouard was born.

I had not heard of Hadelich before, so didn’t know what to expect.  He was born in Germany and raised in Italy, but got the bulk of his music education in the United States, and has had a very successful career, including winning the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and being a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2009.

The sound (from the 1723 “ex-Kiesewetter” Strad) was beautiful and clear, but a bit weak at where we were seated (First Tier).  We had not sit in this section for a while, so I am not sure if that’s the acoustics.  In any case, the passion that I usually associate with this piece did not come through.  The expression on Hadelich’s face oftentimes evoked the image of the joker in batman movies, which adds a dash of curiosity to the performance.

The orchestra turned in an effective performance.  Given my statement earlier about the weak violin sound, I found it amazing that the orchestra didn’t overwhelm the soloist, especially given its size.  I would attribute this to the conductor knowing how to work together with the violinist, especially given that the sound volume problem disappeared with the Berlioz piece.

Most listeners would call this a violin concerto, but not Lalo.  In any case, the piece has five movements: Allegro non troppo, Scherzando: Allegro molto, Intermezzo: Allegretto non troppo, Andante, and Rondo: Allegro.

Per the Program Notes, Fruhbeck has been a regular guest at the New York Philharmonic for the last few years, yet tonight was the first time I saw him.  He is in his early eighties, and conducts from a seated position.  However, he conducted energetically, often leaving his chair.

Prior to tonight, my exposure to the Berlioz piece had been only through CDs, but I do know that Berlioz was driven to write this because of his (at that time unrequited) love for Harriet Smithson.  The Program Notes added a lot to my sketchy knowledge, including the composer imagining himself to be in a drug-induced trance where he sees himself executed.

The Symphony is quite long at around 55  minutes, and consists of five parts.   Part One: Reveries, Passions; Part Two: A Ball; Part Three: A Scene in the Fields; Part Four: March to the Scaffold; and Part Five: Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.

Given the nature of the music, things could easily get out of control.  Tonight’s performance reminds me of an earlier performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony conductor by the 80+ year old conductor Blomstedt where he allowed things to gallop forward without restraint, to great effect.  In Fruhbeck’ case he turned in a well-executed, lucid and controlled rendition of the story, which the audience could tag along and observe.  Perhaps having a storyline helped; I enjoyed the performance greatly.

A couple of interesting things one wouldn’t get from a CD.  First is the dialog between the oboe and the English horn (Part Three) had the oboe player played from the side of the stage.  The other is these two giant bells that were custom-made but had to be played off-stage because they were too loud.  (Too bad we didn’t get to see them.)

Berlioz did get to meet and eventually marry Smithson in 1833.  Unfortunately the marriage fell on hard times and they separated in 1844.  Smithson succumbed to alcoholism and died in 1854.  The music, however, will remain a tribute to this story.

In any case, I am glad we got to go to this concert, even though it was somewhat by chance.  I told Ellie on Sunday that she probably would have enjoyed it also.  Our friend (who shall remain nameless in this blog as he is on probation) certainly seemed to enjoy performing in it.

The New York Times reviewer was critical of the New York Philharmonic’s performance of the Lalo piece, but loved the Berlioz one, calling the overall performance “Jekyll and Hyde.”

Friday, October 05, 2012

Metropolitan Opera - Verdi's Il Trovatore. October 4, 2012.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center - Balcony, Seat E124 ($92.50).

Conductor - Daniele Callegari; Leonora - Carmen Giannattasio, Count di Luna - Franco Vassallo, Manrico - Gwyn Hughes-Jones, Azucena - Dolora Zajick.

Story.  See previous post.

A couple of weeks ago we returned the Il Trovatore tickets for another opera.  We got them as part of our subscription (Thursdays) with the intention of the exchange since we had seen it before.

The McNallys are in town, and when we were having dinner on our boat on Sunday I asked them if they wanted to go to New York Thursday to see a concert.  Our original intention was to buy two additional tickets for the New York Philharmonic concert we already had tickets for.  We decided to exchange those for several reasons: it contains a Schoenberg piece which may be a bit inscrutable, the McNallys had never seen a live opera, and we wanted to make the evening an enjoyable one rather than an intellectually challenging one. The “downside” is they don’t get to meet the new bass player in New York Phil, although it is unlikely that he would be in this concert with a more “intimate” program. In any case, with all these exchanges, I hope I have kept good records of what concerts we will end up going to!

We met up with our guests at East Szechuan Garden and had a quick and (relatively) light dinner before the concert.

Since we saw this before, we thought we would remember the story.  Both Anne and I found it very difficult to read the synopsis written in the Program Notes.  There are just too many things happening outside of the opera to make the reading straightforward.  Luckily I think I finally understood what was going on by the end of the performance, but there were quite a few instances where I simply wanted to give up.  As with some other Verdi operas (Ernani comes to mind), this is an opera whose story line could use some additional development.

This is Carmen Giannattasio’s debut at the Met.  And what a debut it is.  It makes me wonder how deep Met’s talent pool is, there are just so many of these young impressive sopranos: Meade and Machaidze are two others that come to mind.  Her voice could use some refinement at the “soft high” end of the spectrum, but otherwise it was just great.  All the other singers did very well also.  We saw the same Azecuna (Zajick).

Looking back at my writeup, I wasn’t that impressed with the 2009 performance – and we had better seats then.  Since I would like to think I have gotten a bit better at analyzing these things, I would conclude tonight’s was a much better performance.  It was good to know I was equally puzzled by the story.

In any case, we are happy the McNallys could come along.

The New York Times reviewer saw a different Leonora, and he like the performance very much.

New York Philharmonic - Alan Gilbert, conductor; Daniil Trifonov, Piano. October 2, 2012.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat U11, $69.50.)

Night on Bald Mountain (1867; arr Rimsky-Korsakov, 1886) by Musorgsky (1839-81).
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C manor, Op 26 (1917-21) by Prokofiev (1891-1953).
Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Op. 35 (1888) by Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908).

I am writing this review about a week after the event, so I have probably forgotten most of it.  So let me at least get to the details of the program.  The Prokofiev concerto consists of three movements: (1) Andante – Allegro; (2) Tema con variazone, Tema: Andantino, Var I: L’istesso tempo, Var II: Allegro; Var III: Allegro moderato (poco meno mosso); Var IV: Andante meditative; Var V: Allegro giusto; Tema: L’istesso tempo; (3) Allegro ma non troppo.  Scheherazade consists of four movements: (1) Largo e maestoso – Allegro non troppo; (2) Lento – Andantino; (3) ndantino quasi allegretto; (4) Allegro molto.  Glenn Dicterow plays the violin solo passages.

If I remember correctly, Musorgsky (that’s how it is spelled in the Program, I had always thought it was Mussorgsky, and MS Word doesn’t tag the latter as a spelling error) had problems with alcoholism and died relatively young.  His work was usually modified by his contemporaries.  Night on Bald Mountain is no exception, there are many versions of it, and tonight’s version was arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov, and is the one most familiar with the listening public.

The Program Notes emphasizes the symphonic nature of Scheharazade and doesn’t use the familiar descriptions of (1) The Sea and Sinbad; (2) The Story of the Claendar Prince; (3) The Young Prince and the Young Princess; (4) Festival at Baghdad, The Sea, The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surrounded by a Bronze Warrior, Conclusion.  As far I am concerned, it is completely okay to have a narrative associated with the music; it actually keeps the listener’s mind more active.

My comment on the Rite of Spring performance last week was that it was too loud.  I thought the loudness was much more appropriate for tonight’s two orchestral pieces.  Both were done very well by the orchestra.

Gilbert in his introduction to the Program talks about how Glenn Dicterow taught his sister Jenny how to play the violin solo part in Scheharazade.  I hope she does better than her teacher.  Some passages are quite difficult, and Dicterow pulled them off, but the overall result was on the uninspired side.

There is a saying that talent is God’s way of being unfair.  In Trifonov’s case, one could make the case that God is very much so.  He was just amazing, both musically and technically.  I totally enjoyed the music.  Not being a pianist, I usually can’t tell how technically challenging a particular work is.  There was no doubt tonight that this is a virtuoso piece in its extreme.  And he pulled it off effortlessly.  I sat there amazed, and interestingly not worried that he would make a mistake – his playing was just that confident.  At the tender age of 21, he has a long career ahead of him.  Let’s hope he continues to get his audiences excited about his performances.

By the way, he sat in the audience for the second half.  He had to rush out afterwards, warding off the hordes of well-wishers pursuing him.

Overall, this was a much more enjoyable concert that that of the opening week.

The New York Times review is very postive.  Trifonov played an encore at that performance the reviewer attended.