Sunday, October 23, 2016

New York Philharmonic - Bach, Busoni & Schumann - 10/20/16

Conductor: Leonidas Kavakos 
Bach: Violin Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052R (reconstructed by W. Fischer) 
Leonidas Kavakos: Violin 
Paolo Bordignon: Harpsichord 
Busoni: Berceuse élégiaque, Op. 42 
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61 

 After some forays into the wild side of classical music last week, I was back on familiar territory, albeit with a ground-breaking twist, last Thursday at the David Geffen Hall for favorite violinist Leonidas Kavakos, this season's Artist-in-Residence, making his debut as New York Philharmonic conductor. The program included a reconstructed violin concerto by Bach, for which he would do double-duty as soloist and conductor, followed by a short Busoni piece and Schumann's compelling Symphony No. 2, for which he would trade his ubiquitous Stradivarius for the baton.
So it was with great expectations – and the knowledge that in all likelihood they would be amply fulfilled – that I made it to the Lincoln Center on Thursday, an unusually sultry October night, for my first concert of the season at the David Geffen Hall.

About six months ago Leonidas Kavakos' arresting Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3, which he played as an encore after a stunning Sibelius concerto with the NY Phil, was a priceless gift and a merciless teaser, leaving us all both infinitely grateful for the treat and desperately eager for more. Well, since apparently wishes do come true in New York Philharmonic's land, he is back with more Bach this season, and by all accounts the Violin Concerto in D Minor we heard on Thursday night more than rewarded our patience. While the reduced orchestra expertly brought out the superb craftsmanship that had gone into the composition, the performance really stood out thanks to the glowing life that was inconspicuously injected into it, happily filling up the hall with technical wizardry and elegant poise. It was also evidence that Leonidas Kavakos had no problem multi-tasking.
Busoni may have resented being associated with Debussy – Although, let's face it, worse things could happen to a composer – but the connection between the two sounded rather evident during the eight exquisite minutes of his Berceuse élégiaque. This touching tribute to his mother, who had just passed away, exuded delicate colors and subtle textures, and constituted a truly poignant interlude.
I had definitely come for Bach, but I am thrilled I stayed for Schumann, who may not be one of my top composers when it comes to symphonies, but again, in the right company, I cannot help but find myself carried away by the inherently engaging nature of his work. Written during a time of serious physical ailment and mental turmoil, his second symphony is nevertheless surprisingly life-affirming. And that was certainly the general vibe we got on Thursday, where the composer's agonizing struggle, endless agitation, quiet melancholy and final triumph over adversity were expressed with much brilliance and heart by the fully committed orchestra. Nonplussed by the daunting challenge, Leonidas Kavakos conducted sans sheet music, but with a clear vision, a steady command and an instinctive rapport with the musicians, which allowed him to conclude this relatively new endeavor of his with a totally enjoyable performance.

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