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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Concert Review: Rocket to Russia

Daniil Trifonov makes his New York Philharmonic debut.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Piano whiz: soloist Daniil Trifonov in action.
The New York Philharmonic opened its second subscription weekend of the 2012 season on Friday, Sept. 28 with a matinee concert featurig a triptych of Russian classics under the baton of Alan Gilbert.

The concert opened with a potent account of Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, presented here in its revised orchestration by the composer's friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Mr. Gilbert made full use of the wide orchestral palette, from the menacing, demonic growls of the contrabass tuba to the warm, soothing melodies played by principal flautist Michael Langevin in the work's closing pages.

In addition to showing the Philharmonic music director's podium prowess, the performance also makred the orchestra debut of 21-year old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. This concert marked Mr. Trifonov's second New York appearance, following a performance of the Tchaikovsky First last season with the Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

For this concert, Mr. Trifonov played Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, a work that presents serious technical challenges but also has many opportuntiies for  keyboard wizardry. Prokofiev was one of the great touring composer-pianists, and the work was written to provide thrills to his audiences in 1921.

Mr. Trifonov played the extended opening ideas of the first movement with lyric grace, his slim fingers racing up and through the first subject.  Mr. Trifonov played with a strong sense of rhythmic drive, propelling the complex cadenzas forward with a power that belied his hunched, slender shoulders.

The second movement is a complex set of variations on an pseudo-baroque dance theme. Mr. Trifonov skipped nimbly through the rapidly changing tempos of the five variations, fearlessly navigating difficult leaps and keyboard runs with smooth legato and warm, generous tone. Mr Gilbert stayed with him, offering expert support tothe soloist's flights of fancy.

The finale allows opportunties for virtuosity to both the pianist and orchestra, creating a complicated dialogue between the two that erupts into a final display of virtuoso skill. Mr. Trifonov proved the winner of that battle. Triumphant, he returned to the stage for an encore: Franz Liszt's transcription of the Robert Schumann song Widmung ("Dedication.")

The second half of the concert featured another Russian orchestra spectacular: Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Rimsky was inspired by the Arabian Nights stories of a legendary princess who tells tales to avoud decapitation at the hands of her husband. To bottle the magic of those tales, he created four sweeping tone-poems that fit together into a marvelous symphonic whole.

The piece gave opportunity for certain members of the Philharmonic to dislay their quality in the exteded solo passages that embody certain characters in the story. In the role of Scheherazade herself: the violin of concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, who brought sweetness and determination to his melodic lines. Other exceptional soloists included first horn Philip Myers, the agile bassoon of Judith LeClair, and Mr. Langevin, whose flute brought out bright orchestral color to this Arabesque score.

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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.