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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.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Concert Review: The Continental Returns

Charles Dutoit conducts the New York Philharmonic in Central Park.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The crowd gathers for the New York Philharmonic's Thursday night concert.
Photo from nyphil.tumblr.com.

The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks series usually presents New Yorkers with the chance to hear its orchestra play two very different programs. On Thursday night, Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit led a sophisticated program of works centered around the music and culture of France, particularly the city of Paris.

Mr. Dutoit, the current principal conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is well known to music lovers, having led the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal for 25 years--that ensemble's most fertile period. He is a firm specialist in French music and the orchestral music of the 20th century. This evening's selections from the catalogues of Berlioz, Saint-Säens, Stravinsky and Ravel played firmly to those strengths.

Although the skies were overcast and threatening, not one drop of rain landed this night, enabling the players to perform the entire program as planned. And its opening was strong, with Berlioz' Roman Carnival Overture rocketing from the stage and through the sound system like a lit and dazzling firework. The players sounded crisp and taut, playing this familiar overture (itself built from best bits of the opera Benvenuto Cellini with energy and gusto.

The violinist Renaud joined the orchestra next. A veteran player and former concertmaster of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Mr. Capuçon was in the unenviable position of making his Philharmonic debut in front of an audience in the tens of thousands. He was unfazed, playing the first movement of the Saint-Säens Violin Concerto No. 3 with quick figurations, clear bell-like trills and a sense of adventure too often missing from this music.

With Mr Dutoit's expert accompaniment, Mr. Capuçon held the audience rap in the slow second movement,t. Cell phones were put away. Conversations and chatter ceased. And the audience listened as the sweet song of his fiddle cut cleanly through the Central Park night. The gentle Adagio led directly into the slightly wild finale, with Mr .Capuçon soloing freely over the main melodic theme, dazzling the audience with ornamentations and filigree, simultaneously elegant and eloquent.

The second half opened with the Stravinsky ballet Petrushka which premiered in 1911 at the Ballets Russes in Paris. This is a score that the Philharmonic has played frequently in recent years, both in the conceptual program A Dancer's Dream and in this spring's European tour as well. The brass and strings brought glittering detail to light in The Shrove-Tide Fair and the middle movementswere rich in detailed playing from piano and winds. The final movement seemed to lose steam before gathering itself onto a last raucous blast of sound.

The concert ended with La Valse, the evergreen Ravel tone poem in triple time. Mr. Dutoit led the orchestra in this familiar dance of death, exercising strict control over the players' dynamic while trusting the Philharmonic to keep the beat steady throughout. At moments he folded in his arms and swayed, not even appearing to conduct. The results, leading up the the massive climax were most impressive, more so than the obligatory fireworks that followed the audience's applause. 

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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.