Two concerts in the home stretch
The New York Philharmonic is now into its summer season: pops concerts, park concerts and so on. But we’ll look back at a couple of concerts in the home stretch of its regular season.
One Tuesday night saw a guest conductor, Lionel Bringuier, the whiz kid from France. I first reviewed him in 2007, when he was 20. “It’s always risky to say that someone, in any field, is can’t-miss,” I wrote, “but it’s not so risky in this case.” Bringuier has indeed risen. But his opening piece with the Philharmonic was a dud.
The piece isn’t a dud. On the contrary, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the cleverest and most irresistible pieces in the entire repertory. Dukas wrote a hit that will last forever. I would have thought it impossible to make it so dull. The opening pages were labored, stiff and overmanaged. “That’s okay,” I thought: “Bringuier will loosen up and give the piece its due.” He never did. This account remained stubbornly, almost fascinatingly dull. It was almost entirely without wizardry. The only relief came when an audience member sneezed, loudly, in the middle of an important rest. The principal cello, Carter Brey, smiled and shook his head.
This opening did not bode well for the rest of the concert, obviously. And the program was one of the splashiest, least dull conceivable. After intermission, we would have Kodály’s Galánta Dances and a suite from Stravinsky’s Firebird.
First, though, came a violin concerto: Prokofiev’s Second, in which the soloist was Leonidas Kavakos, the Greek violinist and conductor. In February, he gave one of the finest performances of the 2012-13 season in New York. That was in Carnegie Hall, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, under Mariss Jansons. His concerto was the Bartók Second.
In the first movement of the Prokofiev, he, Bringuier and the Philharmonic were okay. Plodding, but competent. In the middle movement, they were again okay. This movement is one of the glories of the repertoire, achingly beautiful. The orchestra was not particularly crisp in its pizzicato accompaniment. And Kavakos could have been more melting and more moving.
The final movement was, once more, okay. It should slash and excite. The performers were a bit flaccid. They could not quite muster the necessary energy. The audience could not quite muster energetic applause—I did not fault them.
In the second half of the program, Bringuier woke up, conducting like the fellow who showed so much promise in 2007. He was musical, reasonable and vital. Kodály’s dances provide many opportunities for individual players to show their virtuosity—and the Philharmonic’s principals came through. One of them was Robert Langevin, the flute. He came through again in Stravinsky’s Firebird, where he was velvety, flitting—whatever his role required.
Maestro Bringuier was overslow and overmanaging in the suite’s Finale. But after the first half of the program, no one had much of a right to complain.
Ten days before Leonidas Kavakos played Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Lisa Batiashvili played that same composer’s Violin Concerto No. 1. When she began, she was calm, composed and otherworldly. The music seemed to come from nowhere. It was strangely depersonalized. Batiashvili was merely a transparency for the music.
She was that way for the rest of the concerto, too. She was always measured and judicious, even in demonic parts. That is not to say she was too moderate; she was simply intelligent and musical. The concerto ended as if in a dream—perfectly unforced. On the podium, Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic’s music director, was excellent. The word “accompanying” is in bad odor these days. So, to a degree, is the word “Ormandy.” I don’t care: Gilbert is almost Ormandy-like in his accompanying skills, which is very high praise.
After intermission, we had an opera: a brief opera, Il prigioniero, by the Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola, who lived from 1904 to 1975. He composed this opera—The Prisoner, in English—from 1944 to 1948. It is a twelve-tone opera, and, Italian though it may be, it is French-seeming, you might say: neat and clear. Gilbert was again excellent, doing the piece full justice. Seldom will you find him unknowledgeable or unprepared.
Singing the title role in this concert performance—i.e., this performance without staging—was Gerald Finley, the Canadian baritone. He sang with the intelligence we expect from him, and also that beautiful sound. Patricia Racette sang the prisoner’s mother. This American soprano usually pins an audience to its seats, and so she did.
Here’s an issue: Should the New York Philharmonic devote some of its concert time to opera? Sure—particularly when the opera in question is worthy and off the beaten track.
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