30 April, 2011

Concert Review: New York Philharmonic-Gilbert

Concert Review: New York Philharmonic-Gilbert

29 April, 2011, Avery Fisher Hall
New York Philharmonic-Alan Gilbert-Emanuel Ax

After the great experience of the Mahler 9th with the Juilliard Orchestra under Gilbert, I was really looking forward to this concert, and my faith was not misplaced. Another reason for attending this concert was for the rare chance of hearing something by Messiaen, one of my favorite modern composers.

Emanuel Ax played first just the Pagodes from Debussy's Estampes, and this was immediately and purposefully followed by Messiaen's Couleurs de la Cite Celeste, a wonderful piece scored for a small orchestra without strings, in which Ax was the pianist. The Messiaen received an arduous and nuanced performance, the brass and percussion forces playing with stunning unanimity; the pedal points were grand and the bird songs took flight. Ax played well, but in both the Messiaen and Debussy I would have preferred a lighter sonority and more biting edge instead of his customary fat tone.

The Mahler Symphony No. 5 once again showed that Gilbert is already a great Mahlerian, and very much his own man. With a firm grasp of architecture, Gilbert delivered a cogent and granitic performance all the way through, with many fresh details illuminated along the way to thundering climaxes. As in his performance of the 9th, Gilbert stayed away from vulgarity and de-emphasized the "dance" elements, focusing on the "symphonic" aspects. At times the music felt relentless and one wished for just a little more swagger, though any lingering doubt would soon be swept away by the tightly woven proceedings. Unusually, in the adagietto Gilbert milked the violins a little more than usual, imparting almost a "Tristan und Isolde" feel to the proceedings.

In this big piece I did not care for the divided violins. While occasionally one could hear the counterpoints more clearly, more often the upper strings, though playing in a refined manner, did not have the critical mass to counter the heavy brass, which Gilbert might have encouraged too much. Nonetheless, a magnificent performance.

NY Times review

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