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Monday, September 24, 2007

Concert Review: New York Philharmonic, Sept. 20, 2007

Thursday night of the New York Philharmonic's opening week featured Beethoven's sole Violin Concerto, bookended by two works that demonstrated the power of this great orchestra under the baton of Music Director Lorin Maazel. The program opened with a tribute to Italian modern composer Luciano Berio, who died in 2003. Berio's music can veer from the extremes of 20th century atonality to a sweet, neo-classical approach that is easy on the ears. That kinder, gentler Berio was in evidence in this piece: Four Original Versions of the "Ritirata alla nottturna di Madrid" by Luigi Boccherini. Berio adapts Boccherini's baroque, Spanish-inflected melodies for a large, modern orchestra, layering and repeating the themes in a manner that recalls the approach and retreat of a vast army. (The sonic effect is not unlike Ravel's Bolero.) Maazel conducted this seven-minute crescendo and dimuendo with verve, power, and no score in front of him.




The Beethoven was the centerpiece of the evening, and this performance featured the four-stringed skills of soloist Lisa Batiashvili. The Georgian violinist played this challenging concerto with glamor and fire, using the cadenzas written by Fritz Kreisler. The extended first movement presents difficulties for any soloist, and Batiashvili surmounted them with ease. Her lyrical phrasing came out in the second movement, and she blazed through the final rondo with an energy fitting this fiery music. Maazel demonstrated his command of phrase and rhythm, drawing a stirring performance from his orchestra. This is her first visit to Avery Fisher Hall this season--she is scheduled to return in October, playing Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Vladimir Ashkenazy on the podium.

The evening ended with Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony. Powerful brass writing and rhythmic snap dominate this symphony, which veers closer to traditional Russian folksong and the sonic territory of the "Mighty Handful" than his later works. This performance showcased the mighty Philharmonic brass section, particularly the horn solos of first chair Philip Myers and the rumbling contrabass tuba and trombones. Mention must also be made of the double reeds: bassoonist Judith LeClair and Ronald Nye along with principal oboist Liang Wang . All three played particularly well in the manic final rondo, contrasting the powerhouse brass with nimble figurations and compelling ensemble texture. Under Maazel's baton, the result was a compelling orchestral texture and the capturing of the definite "Russian-ness" of the score.

Photo © 2007 by Kasskara, from www.lisabatashvili.com
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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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.