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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Concert Review: Out With the New, In With the Old

Alan Gilbert. Photo © 2010 by Chris Lee
The final New York Philharmonic subscription program of 2010 was to feature two new compositions and a rare work by Paul Hindemith. But Sunday's blizzard forced New York's oldest orchestra to cancel its Monday rehearsal, removing all three works from the program. Luckily, the orchestra had last-minute replacements ready to go, and presented a full, entertaining program of beloved classical works from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Although The Nutcracker is among the most frequently performed ballets in the repertory, it's not every day that you get to hear this music played by an orchestra of this caliber. Alan Gilbert and company offered an unusual arrangement of the Suite. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was dropped. In its place, the complete  Divertissement offered, including the Spanish Dance and the frenzied Mother Gigogne and the Clowns among the more familiar excerpts.

The excellent Philharmonic woodwinds were to the fore for the Arabian and Chinese Dances, not to mention the Dance of the Toy Flutes. The band played the Waltz of the Flowers with sweep and elegance.  producing crisp, clean textures made this familiar music sound fresh.

The same vigor went into the opening one-two punch of the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin and the Valse Triste, a Sibelius work that depicts a dance with death. The Onegin excerpt was an energetic curtain raiser with fine playing from the Philharmonic brass. Mr. Gilbert produced eloquent old-world dance rhythms from his orchestra, with fine string playing leading the way in the Sibelius piece.

The second half of the program opened with Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins, featuring members of the Philharmonic's two violin sections playing the delicate, interwoven solo parts. Leading a stripped-down baroque-size orchestra, Mr. Gilbert made Vivaldi's music sound curiously modern and minimalist, a possible blueprint for the work of Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

The full orchestra returned for an effective pairing of Debussy and Ravel. The Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune was taken at a very slow tempo, stretching the fabric of Debussy's music and revealing new aspects of the score to the careful listener. Bolero, Ravel's crescendo of "anti-music" gave the whole orchestra a chance to show their stuff at ever-increasing volume. Mr. Gilbert maintained careful control over the dynamics of the piece, and conducted a performance of the utmost clarity, precision and power.

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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.