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Schubert, Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff, Ravel: Gabriela Montero, Piano (NY Philharmonic debut), New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel, Conductor, Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 25.3.2006 (BH)




Schubert: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D. 485 (1816)

Schoenberg: Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 (1928)

Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 43 (1934)

Ravel: La Valse (1919-20)



About halfway into the Schubert Fifth Symphony, a boy of about eight or so sitting in front of me was “air-conducting” the Menuetto movement.  Watching him out of the corner of my eye while focusing on Lorin Maazel’s elegant gestures in front, I was getting a mild kick from his ingenuous involvement, until his mother gently put her hand over his, quietly urging him to stop.  But one couldn’t blame the lad for getting caught up in the moment, with playing on the vigorous side, in a performance that seemed classically balanced, yet with some bold strokes.  The sprightly Allegro, the languorous Andante, the aforementioned Menuetto graced with slight darkness, and the concluding Allegro vivace (with Maazel’s emphasis on the “vivace”) – all quite sophisticated for a 19-year-old composer. 

“Buckaroo Schoenberg” was the phrase blurted out by a friend who loves the Variations for Orchestra, which offered nail-biting excitement, even if execution suffered now and then.  If Maazel’s seat-of-the-pants reading underscored the difficulties in the work, his keen attention and that of the players made for a white-hot experience.  Highlights included concertmaster Glenn Dicterow’s gorgeous solos, beginning in Variation II, and my personal favorite, the exquisitely short and piercing Variation VIII, marked “Very lively.”  In one sense this is exactly the kind of craggy, take-no-prisoners score that the Philharmonic should be playing every week, but here’s the reality: the piece had not been done here since 1983.  Yes, that’s right: one could have attended every single New York Philharmonic concert from 1984 through last season – twenty-one years’ worth of concerts – and never heard this work.

As invigorating as the Schoenberg was (and the audience let Maazel and the players know it), many in the audience must have been tipped off to the debut of Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, whose sizzling Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini only upped the temperature of an evening already beginning to boil.  Montero has a big sound that is never coarse or grating, and displayed confidence in her ability to hold her own in the midst of Rachmaninoff’s often dense layers, propelled magnificently by the orchestra.  In a program that seemed melded from an unlikely group of bedfellows, Maazel was shrewd to program these variations along with those of Schoenberg, and not coincidentally, these two were the hits of the evening.

The concert closed with Ravel’s La Valse, played with bracing, lurching fervor – perhaps a bit too lurching near the end, when Maazel’s liberal rubato almost brought the work grinding to a halt.  A friend grumbled later, “It’s in three-four time…just play the damn thing.”  That aside, the orchestra made a sensational case for those who admire Ravel’s brilliance as an orchestrator.  The pulsing double bass opening could have been lifted straight from Poe’s The Telltale Heart, with the rest of the ensemble entering in sinister formation, then later ripping into Ravel’s crashing climaxes with the abandon of a Brazilian carnival.  One image I’ll chuckle over for awhile: a smiling maestro Maazel turning to cue the first violins, facing them with baton in left hand and right leg lifted off the podium, looking momentarily like some kind of delighted ingénue, eager for the waltz to begin.



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)