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Friday, February 16, 2007
Last night, the New York Philharmonic opened their 2007 Brahms festival with a performance of the composer's Serenade No. 1 for Large Orchestra and the mighty Piano Concerto No. 1 in d minor. These two works are roughly contemperaneous with each other, written starting in the 1850s, a period when Brahms was overcoming his doubts about succeeding Beethoven in the world of Viennese serious music--and starting to explore working with an orchestra. In fact, if the Seranade had four movements and a more regular structure, it might qualify as a symphony, as it is, it is an interesting hybrid.
In this Serenade, which is among his first major orchestral compositions, the young Brahms juxtaposed the the stormy romanticism of Beethoven with the courtly formalities of Mozart. It is a six-movement work, with multiple dance movements or scherzi, a baroque structure that is used to express a distinctly classical idiom, in a romantic, yet conservative style. In other words, it is unmistakeably Brahms.
Brahms' influences are clearly visible on his sleeve in this composition--yet his own voice is apparent as well: the whole is underpinned by a thick, textured harmonic sensibility. This is a Brahms trademark. Lorin Maazel led an energetic performance, bringing out the power and muscle of this piece but allowing the beauty of the woodwind writing and careful string figures to shine through. The Philharmonic's powerhouse horn section (led, as always, by principal horn Philip Myers) is to be commended for their superb playing.
The second half of the program featured Emanuel Ax at the soloist in the d minor concerto. Lorin Maazel conducted a robust, juicy performance, the big chords of the opening theme echoing against the delicate second theme, Ax was accurate and passionate at the keyboard, racing through the difficult passages in the big first movement, even snapping a string on his piano towards its close. The second movement moved with lyrical grace, bringing forth the composer's evocation of the beauties of the natural world. The finale was a race between piano and orchestra, blazing through the final rondo with the occasional foray into Bach-like fugue along the way. The difficult final cadenzas were played with energy and skill, and conductor and soloist blazed home through the final coda.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats
- Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.