Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor) - Stephen Hough
Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Because life and music must go on, after enjoying a rousing Roméo et Juliette at the Met on Tuesday night, I was back at Lincoln Center about 24 hours later for a long-planned and highly anticipated concert by the New York Philharmonic and Stephen Hough at the David Geffen Hall. The main purpose of my getting a ticket was to hear the modern-day Renaissance pianist's take on Beethoven's Emperor concerto, as I had figured it would be hard to go wrong with that pairing. And having Brahms' Symphony No. 3 on the same program would be a nice continuation in the Romantic tradition. After all, there's nothing wrong with indulging in stellar servings of oldies but goodies once in a while.
Stephen Hough's flawless Debussy and Chopin recital at Carnegie Hall last May had been one the highlights of my season, and I simply could not wait to hear him get busy with Beethoven's majestic Emperor. I am happy to report that my patience was splendidly rewarded by the technically brilliant and emotionally engaging performance the captive audience got to revel in on Wednesday night. Starting with vivacious assertiveness in the long Allegro, he moved on to the Adagio with delicate introspection, before going all fireball with a tad of mischief in the Rondo. Even in his most energetic moments, there was a fundamental purity of sound and a clear sense of purpose that made this Emperor not only remarkable for its sweeping grandeur, but also for its delicate lyricism and sparkling details. Everything I could have hoped for and more.
After intermission and a speech to thank donors, welcome music students among the orchestra and salute the NY Phil's special relationship with the University of Michigan, we headed back to familiar territory with Brahms' relatively lesser-known Symphony No. 3, a puzzling status that was actually hard to believe as the composition was magisterially unfolding with big brass, fleeting winds and glowing strings. Its rich and complex texture beautifully brought to life with vibrancy and flair, the black sheep of Brahms' symphonies probably conquered the last skeptics, assuming there were any in the packed concert hall, and triumphantly concluded the evening with a soft touch.