Friday, April 27, 2012

Batiashvili and Neikrug at the Philharmonic

New York Philharmonic
Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Violin: Lisa Batiashvili

Hector Berlioz, Le Corsaire Overture (1844)
Marc Neikrug, Concerto for Orchestra (World Premiere)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216, Strassburg (1775)
Claude Debussy, La Mer (1905)

The picture above was the view from my third tier box seat at the New York Philharmonic last night.

The program began with a rollicking account of the Le Corsaire overture by Berlioz, followed by the premiere of Neikrug's Concerto for Orchestra. I didn't know what to expect with this new piece since I wasn't able to find any original compositions by Neikrug on Youtube. From the online program notes:
When Alan Gilbert was at Vail with the Philharmonic a couple of summers ago, and Marc Neikrug was Composer in Residence at the Vail Music Festival, they began to discuss the possibility of a commission. The composer thought possibly a wind concerto, but Alan Gilbert said that’s not what he had in mind; he wanted something “with more flash”…something a little more “sparkly.” Neikrug suggested that a concerto for orchestra might fill the bill. Traditional concertos for orchestra (by Bartók, Lutoslawski, for example) tend to highlight sections of the orchestra as virtuoso entities, but rarely pick out individual instruments or players, the way a solo concerto would. By contrast, the present work will build the concerto from multiple layers to show off the Philharmonic: the brilliance of the entire orchestra playing together; sections of the orchestra (e.g., strings, winds, percussion); smaller groups of musicians (a trio of strings, for example); as well as individual players.
The concerto turned out to be a rather serious piece with a percussive opening in the first movement, followed by a scherzo with winds sounding vaguely like Stravinsky, and then an adagio for strings, evoking Mahler. The finale was quite grand and impressive and involved the entire orchestra.

On my first hearing, it was hard to tell what Neikrug sought to achieve with this score other than providing a virtuosic showpiece for the Philharmonic. But I did like it a lot, especially its brooding atmosphere and interplay of harmonies and dissonances. My only crits were that the concerto could perhaps benefit from improved precision among the strings and more concise phrasing towards the climax.

Batiashvili gave a radiant and emotionally charged account of Mozart's third violin concerto, which can sometimes seem chirpy and simplistic in lesser hands. Her tone was sumptuous throughout the piece and her candenzas had a noble beauty.

Gilbert likewise provided a sensuous reading of La Mer, perhaps a bit short on mystery but he did move this piece along with dynamic cadences that kept my interest from flagging. I began to understand why Sviatoslav Richter once called it "a piece that I rank alongside the St. Matthew Passion and the Ring cycle as one of my favorite works."

All in all, a great program. Next week: Mahler's Sixth.

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