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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Concert Review: Storm Home

Charles Dutoit conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Charles Dutoit. Photo provided by the New York Philharmonic.
The announcement came on Halloween Night, as Hurricane Sandy made her exit from our city, continuing the northwest course that forced the 500-mile-wide swirl of wind and rain smack straight on into New York Harbor:

November 1–3 Concert Program Changed Due To Impact Of Hurricane Sandy 
New Program To Include Works by Glinka, Elgar, and Rachmaninoff 
Soloist Nikolai Lugansky To Make Philharmonic Debut, Charles Dutoit To Conduct.

On Saturday night, with one subway line providing access into Manhattan, this writer was able to see the New York Philharmonic perform this altered program under the sure baton of veteran Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit. The whole program sparkled. It seemed that New York's hometown orchestra wanted to please and soothe with these great works, and provide some measure of healing to an audience still suffering shell shock from the storm.

The performance opened with a brisk, jaunty account of the Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla, Mikhail Glinka's escapist fantasy based on a surreal drama by Pushkin. Mr. Dutoit and the orchestra produced the overture's Rossini-like rhythms with bold vigor, alternating with rich, Oriental colors from the double reeds.

These concerts marked the Philharmonic debut of Nikolai Lugansky, a steel-fingered Russian pianist with the chops and stretch to tackle Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3, that Everest among piano works. In a piece that he has performed frequently with Mr. Dutoit, Mr. Lugansky proved an able soloist, firing off the thrilling runs, arpeggios and soliloquies for his his instrument, yet playing with a sense of melancholy that pleased the ear.

Mr. Dutoit is an able Rachmaninoff conductor, providing solid support to the long arches of pianistic legerdemain but also allowing individuals within the orchestra to shine. Principal horn Philip Myers played his first movement solos with great sensitivity and breath conrol, his horn rising out of the back of the orchestra to briefly intertwine with the solo piano.

The sweet, melodic Intermezzo proved to be a sturdy, well-traveled bridge to the stunning finale, where Mr. Lugansky pulled out every trick in the conservatory book to meet the stiff challenges written into the score. Amazingly enough, the soloist had enough energy for an elegant encore.

The second half of the program featured Sir Edward Elgar's always popular Enigma Variations which allow all four sections of the orchestra chances to shine as they present miniature musical portraits of the composer's friends and family. Although the central "enigma" of the work has never been found, Mr. Dutoit's interpretation may have given a clue--a repeated theme that has its origin in the third movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The Variations found the orchestra in top form, with strong lyric contributions from the principal viola and cello, and from the powerhouse percussion and brass. In a city torn by storm damage with houses destroyed, a Philharmonic performance may not be the most relevant event. But this week, it was a reminder that the city will recover and that in the wake of Sandy, our lives will go on.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats