Sunday, February 11, 2018

New York Philharmonic - Vaughan Williams, Britten & Saint-Saëns - 02/08/18

Conductor: Antonio Pappano 
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis 
Britten: Piano concerto, Op. 15 (1945 version) 
Leif Ove Andsnes: Piano 
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 (Organ) 
Kent Tritle: Organ

After thoroughly enjoying a wonderful recital by Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk on Wednesday evening at Carnegie Hall, I kept my momentum going and went to hear the New York Philharmonic on Thursday evening at David Geffen Hall, mostly to become acquainted with Benjamin Britten’s piano concerto, which I did not even knew existed until I saw it on the program. But Britten has always impressed me, especially as an opera composer, so getting that ticket was a no-brainer.
And the occasion promised to be all the more memorable as the mystery composition would be performed by Norwegian pianist extraordinaire Leif Ove Andsnes, himself an old and always reliable acquaintance, who also happens to be the 2017–18 Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic.
Moreover, the program turned out to present not one, but two exciting works I was not familiar with (Well, technically three, if you count the short Ralph Vaugh Williams opener), the second one being Camille Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, which I had never gotten to experience live. An enlightening evening was obviously in store for me.

Vaughan Williams’ "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" kicked off the concert with what can be safely considered a 15-minute showcase for strings. And the orchestra’s strings quickly demonstrated that they were in fine form on Thursday evening as they were unfolding the incredibly lush melodies with warmth and intensity. The rest of the orchestra unhesitatingly followed suit under the animated baton of maestro Pappano, and we were all off to an excellent start of the evening.
I highly doubt that there is anything that Leif Ove Andsnes cannot handle, and this time his audacity, technique and commitment were unreservedly put to the service of the 1945 version of Britten’s unfairly neglected Piano Concerto No. 3. The program notes had mentioned that the four-movement concerto is more orchestra-centric than most compositions of the same genre, but the dire warning thankfully turned out to be not entirely necessary.
If soloist and orchestra hit the ground running together and kept up their remarkable tightness until the very last note of the piece, Andsnes did get to do his own thing more than once, including a couple of solo passages that he unsurprisingly nailed with his trademark virtuosity. From my seat I had a direct view over his hands working the keyboard and couldn’t help but marvel at their high-speed and precision flying. Let’s face it, the man can do no wrong.
From 20th century England we moved back to 19th century France after intermission for Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, never mind that the name, which was never sanctioned by the composer, is a bit misleading, the organ being just a guest, not the subject, of the work. The electronic organ that had been brought into the hall, however, was still heard loud and clear through two massive speakers as it was expertly played by no less than Kent Tritle.
Dazzling piano passages written for two and four hands provided more keyboard-related highlights, the overall Romantic mood had an irresistible urgency to it, and the famous Maestoso section was definitely, well, majestic. In fact, the entire symphony was energetically driven by Pappano with the fired-up orchestra more than willing and able to keep up pace. The noticeably large audience gobbled it all up and gave it a rousing and well-deserved ovation.

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