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Carter, Stravinsky, Berlioz:
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano) New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Loren Maazel, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, 03.06.2006 (BH)


 

Carter: Dialogues for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (2003)

Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1923-24; rev. 1950)

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique: Episode de la vie d’un artiste (Fantastic Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist), Op. 14 (1830)

 

 

As gripping as Lorin Maazel was in Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique (possibly the entry point for many in the audience), it was the first half of his program with the New York Philharmonic that lingered most in the memory.  Carter and Stravinsky were easily the stars of the night, underscored by a sidebar in the printed program, with the photo of Stravinsky talking to Carter in New York’s Gallerie International in 1962. 

 

Naturally the Carter work’s title, Dialogues, leads one to expect conversation between the soloist and ensemble, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard is the perfect partner for this particular banter.  Carter’s scoring for the quarter-hour is transparent in the manner of his recent projects, although the repartee grows increasingly frenetic as the piece progresses.  Carter observes that, like many conversations, the parties sometimes respond, sometimes argue, sometimes interrupt. 

 

With Aimard in elegant posture and attire, and typically cool under the most demanding lines, Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments was the highlight of the evening, and as an aside, it hadn’t been performed here since 1993.  It would be hard to imagine a listener who hungers for The Firebird or Le Sacre not responding to Stravinsky’s invention here, and I couldn’t help but think that the wit and lightness anticipates Le Baiser de la Fée in 1928, just four years later.  A raucous, charming first movement is followed by a funereal, hymn-like Largo, with a virtuosic Allegro providing a happy conclusion.  It would be hard to imagine a more fleet and entertaining performance, one that caused the mind to muse in all sorts of oblique directions.  (But then, that’s what Aimard often does to you.)  At intermission, the pianist friend with me was mentioning Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. 

 

It would be easy to toss off the Symphonie fantastique as nothing more than a splashy showpiece, but Maazel had other things on his mind, and brought out a clarity and luminous sheen (especially in the opening Reveries, Passions) that suggested Berlioz might be more closely related to the program’s first half than some might think.  The luxuriant Philharmonic strings in A Ball led into an even more profound and stirring Scene in the Fields.  Like many listeners, I’m seduced by the work’s final two movements but Maazel placed this Adagio as the heart, in a way that caught me off guard.  If nothing else, the beauty of the orchestral playing was a wonder.  The two final movements were about as colorfully imagined as one could want, with particular praise for the Philharmonic’s percussion section.  They are justifiably proud of their huge church bells (when most orchestras use chimes), added relatively recently, following a 1988 concert with the State Symphony Orchestra of the Soviet Ministry of Culture in Gorky Park.  This piece should be a physical experience and did not disappoint. 

 

When others trot out yet another Beethoven Ninth Symphony, Maazel should feel very proud of his unorthodox ending to the Philharmonic’s season.  As the applause continued, he quieted the crowd before mentioning that the first stop on the orchestra’s upcoming Italian tour would be Rome, and that therefore Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture would be an appropriate encore.  “Appropriate” is too modest a word for the flashy, brilliant reading that brought down the house. 

 



Bruce Hodges


 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)