Monday, June 30, 2014

New York Philharmonic – Alan Gilbert, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano; Glenn Dicterow, violin; Carter Brey, cello. June 16, 2014.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra G115 ($68.50.)

Program: The Beethoven Piano Concertos: A Philharmonic Festival.
Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C major, Op. 56 (1804).
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, Emperor (1809).

For me, tonight’s concert is as much about the Emperor Concerto as it is about its being the final program with Glenn Dicterow as the concertmaster.  As music goes, both are easy pieces to enjoy, and the majesty of the Emperor contrasts very well with the genteelness of the Triple.

I have remarked many times on Glenn Dicterow as a soloist, and the comments mostly fall under the “critical” category.  To be fair, that the New York Philharmonic has enjoyed a solid reputation during his 34 years as its concertmaster speaks volumes about his leadership; it is something that he has every right to take credit for, and be proud of.  I joined in the enthusiastic applause as the soloists and Gilbert took the stage; I am sure most of the welcome was directed at Dicterow.

For me the Triple Concerto is best characterized as a Trio played against an orchestra more as an accompaniment than as an equal partner; there are of course some instances that the orchestra asserted itself.  As to the composition itself, a quote from the Playbill is illuminating: the very people who most blame Beethoven for writing below his full powers would be the first to acclaim it as the work of a still greater composer.  Indeed it doesn’t have the “sturm und drang” that characterize so many of the composer’s works; instead it is a light-hearted piece that could even pass itself off as background music.  (I am sure the composition student can find a lot to admire about the work’s details.)

For tonight, it was simply an enjoyable composition played by great musicians.  In case one is wondering, that remark applies to Dicterow too.  One of the constant refrain I have made about Dicterow is his choice of music when he was a soloist: the compositions were chosen more for his fellow musicians and scholars than the typical concert-goer.  I wonder how my opinion would have been shaped if he had performed works by composers such as Lalo, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, instead of Szymanowski and Dutilleux.  I guess we will never know …

The applause was thunderous afterwards.  I seldom stand up during curtain call – as a matter of principle, great performances are expected of world class players – but I did tonight.  I think the appreciation shown by the audience is well-deserved.  As it was, this series also concluded Bronfman’s two-year stint as artist-in-residence.

By the time the Emperor Concerto was premiered in Leipzig, Beethoven’s deafness had advanced such that he couldn’t introduce it as the soloist.  Evidently the concerto got its nickname because someone shouted “C’est l’Empereur!” during its Viennese premiere.  Beethoven by that time was totally disillusioned with Napoleon.

The piece, like his violin concerto, with its great contrasts, is characteristically Beethoven.  Bronfman just sat there and pounded out a great interpretation.  I said after the last concert that his playing reminded me a lot of Emanuel Ax’s; that was reinforced today.

Overall, this was a great way for the orchestra to conclude its regular season.

It was just a great evening of music.  I do want to record a couple of (small) quibbles.  First, I thought Carter Brey’s cello could be a bit louder.  The cello has a prominent role in the Triple Concerto, and Brey’s playing was exquisite, but I would have like to hear more of it.  The other complaint is the Emperor Concerto calls for a lot of majestic playing that sometimes sounded loud instead.  Most of the time Bronfman’s interpretation was majestic, but every now and then some harshness crept in.

For completeness, the three movements of the Triple Concerto are Allegro, Largo, and Rondo alla Polacca, and those of the Emperor Concerto are Allegro, Adagio un poco mosso, and Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo.

The New York Times review spends most of its energy on discussing the various players, dishing out some insider information in the process.  Interestingly the reviewer didn’t have much more to say about the music or the performance either.

We left Boston this morning, after spending a few days helping out with household duties while our son went to Brazil with a group of friends to watch a few FIFA World Cup matches.  It would have been too stressful to drive home and then come back to the city, so we went straight to the city, getting in at around 4:30 pm.  While we were in Rubenstein Atrium having coffee and deciding what to do, the opportunity to meet with Nancy came up.  She was to start her work with a non-profit that we support in a few days, but was still working in mid-town.  Anne and I sat down with her for about an hour to get to know each other.  So we made great use of the idle time, after all.

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