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Not quite Rite in the NYPO’s season opener: Andsnes, Gilbert, Kurtág, and Beethoven

22 September 2012

It is hard to imagine that many of the world’s major orchestras will begin their seasons this year with only three people on stage. Yet in this fascinating programme which promised much and never quite delivered, New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert was joined under the proscenium arch only by timpanist Markus Rhoten and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The rest of a reduced Phil was arrayed around the hall, mostly at the back, in a continuation of the spatial theme that had closed its last season at the Park Avenue Armory.

György Kurtág’s … quasi una fantasia… employs small forces – not an orchestra but “groups of instruments” – to characteristically powerful effect. The title brings to mind the two piano sonatas of Beethoven’s Op. 27, although this is a chamber concerto rather than a solo work. Of Beethoven’s two form-busting pieces it is the lesser-known first rather than the famous “Moonlight” sonata that Kurtág specifically references: the four linked “movements” of Beethoven’s work are taken as an initial structure here too, although other similarities are few. Combining the concision of Webern with something of the childlike quality of Schumann, the piece starts with deceptively simple descending scales on the piano, with distant flutters of bells: the scales, if not again heard with such delicacy as played here by Andsnes, are implicit in the music throughout. There is more than a hint of the funeral march of Webern’s Op. 6 to the second “movement” – marked “Wie ein Traumeswirren”, or “Like a nightmare” – which is quickly dissipated by the clustered, percussive recitativo third. A concluding “Aria” returns to the cradled opening, its lullaby rocking in the piano and later elsewhere as eerie harmonics and disembodied tones emerge from recorders and harmonicas. As with Beethoven’s sonata the opening motifs return, changed, descending slowly on the timpani and petering out quietly.

Not the most enticing of highlights, granted, but you can find the rest of my review of the New York Philharmonic’s opening programme here. The concert really did promise quite a lot in terms of thematic intrigue, but didn’t deliver – especially in an oomphless Rite. An unavoidable pity, too, that the Kurtág suffered from rather intrusive audience noise. Next up in reviewing terms, in a very quiet September in New York, is Daniil Trifonov playing Prokofiev, which enlivens a programme that wouldn’t ordinarily attract me (Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade).

October already looks a good deal more exciting, as Carnegie and the Met get going. UI will cast his ears over Muti and the CSO in Franck and Wagner; Manny Ax playing the Schoenberg concerto; Paul Lewis in a late Schubert triptych; maybe Gergiev and the LSO in Brahms; Adès’s Tempest and Le nozze di Figaro at the Met (warning: there will be Lepage); and probably a couple of other goodies.

Meanwhile, this (left) is now available. Don’t bother with it, but if you get chance to check out Kaufmann singing Siegmund on Spotify or something, do. The rest is  badly edited and shoddy sounding, sadly some very poor singing in this Met Ring, particularly in Siegfried and Götterdämmerungif not in a thrilling Walküre. Kaufmann and Terfel, however, are excellent.

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