Conductor: Manfred Honeck
Braunfels: Suite from Fantastic Apparitions on a Theme by Berlioz, Op. 25
Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 - Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Beethoven: Symphony No 7 in A Major, Op. 92
For my first live performance of 2013, it was almost back to business as usual on Thursday night with my neighbors down the street, the New York Philharmonic, my fellow Lyonnais pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and a program including the always welcome - if not tremendously original - names of Grieg and Beethoven. The two unusual touches of the evening would come from the first piece, a suite written by the German composer Braunsfels (?!) and inspired by La Damnation de Faust, and the New York Philharmonic conducting debut of Manfred Honeck, the well-established Austrian conductor who has been distinguishing himself lately as the artistic director of the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra.
The one unknown element of the program, Braunsfels' Suite from Fantastic Apparitions on a Theme by Berlioz, opened the concert and my musical year with a fun and robust little number strongly exuding Straussian flavors and assertively setting the Romantic mood for the rest of the evening.
The main attraction for most of the audience that night had to be perennially dapper and famously virtuosic Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing the old war horse that is the Grieg Piano Concerto. And the two proved to be a fine combination indeed. After the commanding crescendo roll from the timpani and the grand flourish from the piano had made their flamboyant entrance, we all gladly embarked on a luxurious journey in full-blown Romanticism. Not an overly complicated work, but made immensely compelling by its attractive melodies and dramatic intensity, the popular staple was vigorously but still respectfully handled by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The sweeping passages were fast flying, the intricate details were prettily sparkling, the wild rhythms were energetically kept. In short, all went well, thanks in no small part to the mighty orchestra supporting the brilliant soloist.
The last piece of the program was Beethoven's "happy" 7th symphony, which also happens to contain one of my all-time favorite musical movements in its inconspicuously hypnotic Allegretto. On Thursday night, not only did this wonderful little gift beautifully come to life, but the other three movements got to shine in all their own splendor as well. From the majestic opening to the explosive Finale, Manfred Honeck maintained full control over the superb orchestra, having them negotiate every single twist and turn with cleverness and panache for a totally satisfying performance. There's no doubt about it: The year has started well.