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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Concert Review: The Players' Club

Members of the Philharmonic at the 92nd St. Y.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yefim Bronfman (left) and Glenn Dicterow (right) wrap up their terms as Artist-in-Residence
and Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic this season.
Portrait photos © 2014 The New York Philharmonic.
The giant sound of a major symphony orchestra often obscures the excellence of its component players. Last Friday night at the 92nd St. Y, members of the New York Philharmonic joined pianist (and current Philharmonic artist-in-residence) Yefim Bronfman for an evening of chamber music, highlighting the excellent individual voices that comprise New York's oldest orchestra.


In addition to Mr. Bronfman, the evening at Kaufman Concert Hall was also part of a season-long adieu to Glenn Dicterow, who has served as the Philharmonic's concertmaster since 1980. In fact, the first work on the program: an early Sonatina by Franz Peter Schubert paired Mr. Dicterow and Mr. Bronfman for an energetic, imaginative performance of this work.

This work (written when its creator was just 18) has the breadth and power of a symphony. A sure flow of notes emerged in the opening Allegro suffused with melodic beauty and rigorous form. Working through the yearning slow movement and the energetic dance that followed, the musicians were in perfect concert, playing with polish and a joy in skilled music-making. The finale was a dazzling set of variations, a bold imitation of Beethoven that still made an original statement.


Although the Philharmonic recently installed Anthony McGill in the key post of Principal Clarinet, it was the associate Mark Nuccio that got the call for this concert. Here, he joined Mr. Bronfman and violinist Lisa Kim for Bartók's Contrasts, a three movement work originally written for Benny Goodman. Mr. Nuccio leapt readily to the technical demands of this work, playing fiery lines that were part jazz inflection and part inspired by Bartók's penchant for folk music.

The first movement (Vérbunkos) was a very Mahlerian military march, capped with a dazzling cadenza that displayed the wide breadth of expression in Mr. Nuccio's instrument. The central Pihenö was full of shadowy, swirling textures, with the hollow keening of Ms. Kim's violin diving and deking with the clarinetist. In the final Sebes, Mr. Bronfman led the percussive charge in a fast final movement that required Ms. Kim to switch to a violin re-tuned to the composer's specifications.

Of Brahms' chamber works, the Piano Quintet in F had the most difficult, tortured genesis. Yet as played by Mr. Bronfman, Mr. Dicterow, Ms. Kim, violist Rebecca Young and cellist Eileen Moon, the work sounded as if it had always been intended for this combination of instruments. Ms. Young in particular sprang to the fore, riding the central melodic line even as her four fellow players traded themes around her instrument's middle register.

Mr. Bronfman showed himself a skilled chamber player here, letting the piano make its own original statements while heeding close to the printed music. (He worked from a score for each one of these performances. As for the other string players, their skill and long familarity made this a pleasure to hear, the sound of great musicians free to express themselves outside the rigors of the orchestral stage. If you've never heard Philharmonic musicians play chamber music, you owe yourself this intimate experience.

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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.