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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.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Concert Review: His Future's So Bright...

Lionel Bringuier conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Lionel Bringuler. From
The 21st century has seen the rise of a new breed of conductor. Debonair, talented, and above all, young, these nascent maestros have been given powerful positions within the cutthroat world of classical music, taking over major orchestras before reaching their fourth decade.

Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic featured an even younger conductor, the 26-year-old French sensation Lionel Bringuier. Mr. Bringuier is the net music director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, a venerable Swiss ensemble that happens to be one of the world's better recording orchestras. For these concerts, Mr. Bringuier offered a four-course meal of 20th century classics.

First up, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the signature work of under-appreciated French composer Paul Dukas. Mr. Bringuier made the connection between the marching brooms of Goethe' original story and Wagner's flying Valkyries,. This energetic performance that gained in rhythmic power as the work progressed. The ace woodwinds of the Philharmonic formed the core of this strong reading, with the metronomic strings carrying the pounding ostinato rhythms to their logical conclusion.

Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto is a valedictory work, written as the composer had given up the freedoms of a nomadic life in the West for the rigors of Stalin's Russia. This is the composer at his most idealistic and elegant, with a solo violin part that opens the work with a very traditional Russian folk melody. The orchestra follows, but in each of the three movements the violin leads the discourse.

Leonidas Kavakos played the opening intervals with a smooth, singing tone, arguing for the melodic value of this music over sheer virtuosity. Mr. Kavakos opened the innermost, intimate thoughts of the central slow movement. The Rondo was exhilarating, played with a joyful energy that was tempered by a sense of nostalgia. Unfortunately, the reality of Prokofiev's return was harsh, marked by struggles with Stalin's caprice and the enemy of any composer: the Soviet censors.

The Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály is beloved in his homeland, but not as well known here as his compatriot and friend Béla Bártok. Kodály's idiom is also charged with folk music ideas, but propelled by a sense of melody and thematic invention that makes his work absolutely unique. Here, Mr. Bringuler offered the five Dances of Gálanta, tempering the fiery rhythms with a sweet lyricism and a prominent part for the solo clarinet.

The concert ended with Igor Stravinsky's 1919 Suite from his ballet The Firebird. In this familiar score, it was the orchestra that rose to new heights of eloquence. From the skitter of bows across the strings in the mysterious opening to the evocative English horn solo that first suggests the opera's love story, conductor and orchestra created a mysterious atmosphere.

The violent percussion bangs that signalled the arrival of the demonic King Kaschei and his demon hordes proved a thrilling jolt even for the most jaded listener. The final pages, led off by Philip Myers' noble solo horn led into the gorgeous mass strings. This leaped forward into a wild celebration, music played with the utmost clarity and emotion by the Philharmonic players.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats