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Monday, January 4, 2016

The Year in Reviews: The Concerts of 2015

The best concerts and recitals of the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Mysingsö Beach Chair (pictured above) was a key component of
Goldberg, the experimental presentation of Bach at the Park Avenue Armory.
Photo from IKEA.com © IKEA.
2015 was a year of farewells. Pierre Boulez, having turned 90 quietly stepped off the podium. Kurt Masur passed away. Valery Gergiev ended his term with the London Symphony Orchestra and Alan Gilbert announced that he would be moving on from the New York Philharmonic. However it was also a very good year for concert music.

This year's concerts were in a variety of settings: Lincoln Center, NJPAC and even a beach chair in the middle of the darkness of the Park Avenue Armory. All that and more is in the list of the ten best concert experiences I had in 2015. All links lead to full reviews and all quotes below are taken from Superconductor articles.



Riccardo Muti's Scriabin at Carnegie Hall
"Under Mr. Muti's  measured leadership, the execution of the Divine Poem was flawless, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra players rising to the challenge and giving this work considerable effort and passages of great beauty. This is serious, challenging music, a fascinating sound-world to visit. It is not the conductor's fault that the endless pages of murmuring strings, moaning brass and growling basses failed to communicate the hidden meaning that fought to be heard from its prison within the bars of the printed score."

The Pierre Boulez Piano Cycle
"Sonata No. 2 is a very different beast, a 30-minute monster that terrorizes pianists the way climbers in northern Pakistan are wary of going up K2. The four movements are based on Beethoven's Hammerklavier, and are a systematic and brutal deconstruction of the Romantic style as established by that watershed piece. The searing opening movement was played with power and precision by Ms. Stefanovich, who brought rhythmic drive and a taut, terse narrative to this long sonata form."

Marc-Andre Hamelin's Beethoven in New Jersey
"Mr. Hamelin's right hand drove the relentless, searching rhythm of the first subject forward against Mr. Lacombe's loping accompaniment. His playing was crisp and lucid, combining with the orchestra in the initial thematic statement with a seriousness of purpose undershot with a current of playfulness and vitality that can make a performance of this concerto truly special. "

The Cleveland Orchestra plays Messiaen and Dvorak
"Messian's use of tonal color and shade shines light on a dazzling array of sounds. This aviary of orchestral effect that alternated with huge slabs of brass, percussion and bass. These huge tone clusters eventually rearranged themselves into a monolithic Dies Irae. Even in this secular and almost serialist work, Messiaen’s religious influence was never far away. Throughout, the Cleveland players executed this knotty music with great precision and obvious affection for the work, with Mr. Welser-Möst serving as a sort of guide to the colorful songs and themes caught within the pages of this score."

Sol Gabetta at Mostly Mozart
"She followed the Haydn with a compelling and haunting encore that featured plucked tone-rows, a surprisingly lush melody for lower strings and most stunning of all, singing by the cellist herself in counterpoint to the complex lines that she was playing. The piece was revealed to be a movement (marked Dolcissimo) of The Book, a contemporary work created for Ms. Gabetta by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. "

Valery Gergiev's farewell tour with the LSO
"The London players obliged this sordid little story with a tumultuous performance, pounding out the brutal scenario and gleefully tearing through the bloodiest sections of the score. Mr. Gergiev let them have their fun but stayed firmly in control, pounding out the obsessive rhythms and sticking the 'concert ending' that ends the work before its supernatural denouement."

Danil Trifonov plays Rachmaninoff
"Mr. Trifonov made a bold entry over a surging orchestral theme, establishing his piano as a rhythmic driving agent against commenting, twittering clarinets. And then the dreamy main theme emerges in oboe, clarinet and piano as the work begins to surge forward, with Mr. Trifonov racing through the tricky expository passages as the orchestra gave chase. The central Largo is Rachmaninoff at his most cerebral, working through a broken chromatic chord and using it as the source for a great upwelling of melody."

Yefim Bronfman at the Boston Symphony Orchestra
"Yefim Bronfman brought both power and lyricism to the thunderous first movement, working in close concert with Mr. Nelsons. This was a thrilling rendition that burst with energy and vitality, the staccato rhythms of the first movement echoing against taut chords from the winds and a firestorm of percussion. The strings are mute for the first movement but return in the second, accompanying the piano part and engaging in dialogue with the solo instrument. The finale was all joyous, bustling energy, with Bartók's fearless use of folk rhythms creating a propulsive perpetual motion."

Goldberg at the Park Avenue Armory
"The piano stopped its journey ten feet in front of me. A second gong shattered the silence, the signal for us to take off our earphones and listen to the genius of Bach. The bright white lights were replaced by a single horizontal beam running the circumference of the hall. And Mr. Levit, illuminated by a long LED mounted above his keyboard started to play the Aria  the opening phrases slow, majestic and mellifluous in the manufactured silence. And his piano began to rotate very slowly: it woul complete one revolution in its place before he was finished."

Alan Gilbert conducts Sibelius
"Mr. Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic met these challenges with enthusiasm, from the bare opening chords to the ascending tritone that establishes the symphony's key and sets the listener on edge. The treacherous opening movement were navigated with skill, with the orchestra shifting easily through this ambiguous, angst-driven music. The scherzo followed, with a staccato theme in the strings against agile woodwinds."

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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.