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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Concert Review: No Turkeys At All

Andrey Boreyko conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Thanksgiving guest: conductor Andrey Boreyko.
Photo by Susanne Diesner © 2012 Tonhalle Orchester Zurich.
The New York Philharmonic adjusted their concert schedule for Thanksgiving week, allowing the players to enjoy time with their families (and not having to rehearse a new piece for the weekend concerts. As a result, last night's concert was a rarity: a new program premiered on a Tuesday. (The program will repeat Nov. 23, 24 and 27, with a Saturday matinee also featuring the New World Symphony.)

The concert, conducted by Andrey Boreyko opened with a rarity from Mendelssohn's vast (and underplayed) catalogue. Specifically, this was the charming, witty Overture to Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde ("Son and Stranger") one of the light operas Mendelssohn wrote to be played by his friends and family.

Mr. Boreyko's interpretation ull of the melodic life and joy one associates with this composer. A slow introduction was followed by a brisk middle section, with the introduction coming back as a brief, quizzical reprise at the very end.

The orchestra was then joined by Frank Peter Zimmermann for a performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. From the keening, mournful melodic line of the slow first movement, which bends and unwinds itself at a leisurely pace, this was playing of the highest level from last year's Artist-in-Residence.

Mr. Zimmermann saved the fireworks for the next movement, a powerful Scherzo with a compelling central Trio. This was the sound of Shostakovich from 1947-48, at the time of the Soviet government's latest attack on his work and his dismissal from the Leningrad Conservatory. The Scherzo shifts the momentum of the entire piece from grief to anger with driving rhythms that depict the madness of war. The Passacaglia followed, with more difficult, lyric soloing over the old-style figured bass--itself laid down with authority by the tuba and trombones.

A long cadenza meditated on everything that came before, with expressive, elegaic playing that drew the listener into the composer's dark inner thoughts. The final Rondo featured more athletic playing from the German violinist, with fire and a soulful sound that transcended the work's technical challenges.

Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") is literally in the New York Philharmonic's blood. It was written in Manhattan (at Dvořák's townhouse, which stood on E. 17th St. until 1991) and premiered by this orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1893 with the composer present. Mr. Boreyko led the ensemble in a big-shouldered reading of the score, which placed emphasis on muscle over clarity.

The work's famous Largo was taken here slightly fast, as if the young conductor wanted to get into the work's melodic heart as quickly as possible. The English horn solo was played with poignant detail. Even better was the reprise of that theme (played by the principal string players of the orchestra including the recently returned to health cellist Carter Brey, complete with the two halting pauses that are not a conductor's whim, but actually written into the score.

The last two movements featured a casual display of orchestral virtuosity, underpinned by the perfectly timed timpani of Markus Rhoten and the bold sound of the orchestra's famous brass section. In the finale, Mr. Boreyko underlined the work's Wagnerian quotations (including the clarinet solo from Tannhäuser) before bringing the broad, searching theme of the Largo back. At the close of the symphony, it transitions to the strides of a searching giant, loping over the orchestra in search of the frontier.

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