Sunday, December 29, 2013

New York String Orchestra - Elgar, Prokofiev & Tchaikovsky - 12/28/13

Conductor: Jaime Laredo
Elgar: Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47 - Johannes String Quartet
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 4 in B-Flat Major, Op. 53 - Leon Fleisher
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)

After the fun little concert in an uptown crypt of Friday night, I was back in Carnegie Hall's much more conventional Stern Auditorium last night for the second holiday concert by the New York String Orchestra, the outstanding ensemble of young music students carefully selected across the US and Canada.
Yesterday's program had many attractive features, but the two that had decisively tipped the scale for me were the presence of legendary pianist Leon Fleisher, regardless of the work that he would be playing, as well as Tchaikovsky's epic Pathétique symphony, one of my first forays into classical music and still one of my favorite symphonies.

Although seeing the name of Edward Elgar typically guarantees lush Romantic sounds, his "Introduction and Allegro", composed for the newly formed London Symphony Orchestra at the time, appeared more restrained and complex than his usual style, which nevertheless does not mean that it was lacking in beauty or passion. Performed by the unusual combination of quartet and orchestra, it was an immensely enjoyable string feast.
Commissioned by and written for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4 was actually never performed by him and eventually disappeared until after the composer's death. Last night the concerto was superbly performed by Leon Fleisher who, as an 85-year-young artist, demonstrated the same amount of heart and enthusiasm as the much younger members of the orchestra. Although he himself had lost the use of his right hand for many years, Fleisher never gave up on music, and yesterday his artless virtuosity was on full display as he was effortlessly bringing to life the work's pretty melodies and intricate passages.
Listening to the vibrant and dynamic performance of the Pathétique by the orchestra, which was for the occasion enhanced by a few alumni to celebrate Jaime Laredo's 20-year tenure, I could not help but think that the relentless roller-coaster that is Tchaikovsky's swansong may resonate even more powerfully with young musicians since it overflows with the type of intense Romantic emotions that are so strongly felt by sensitive youth. Whether my theory is right or not, the soaring melodies grandly swelled, the sudden outbursts mightily exploded, the undanceable waltz serenely limped, and the packed audience stayed at the edge of their seats the whole time. The spontaneous ovation at the end of the rousing military march was lasting so long that Jaime Laredo felt compelled to have the orchestra stand up and bow before sitting back down to take care of the last movement, the heart-wrenching Adagio lamentoso. A glorious official finish to a smashing home run.

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