Monday, June 18, 2012

My last concert of the season: New York Philharmonic plays Beethoven, Korngold, and Nielsen

On Saturday we heard the Philharmonic perform Beethoven's Overture to Coriolan, Korngold's Violin Concerto with soloist Leonidas Kavakos, and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 3, all conducted by Alan Gilbert. Barring a last-minute offer of tickets to this week's season finale series, Saturday's was the last concert of the season for us.

I enjoyed the Beethoven but I thought the piece could have used a little more drama. It's an energetic, powerful work but I didn't feel drawn into the performance. On the other hand, Kavakos provided all the drama and energy the audience needed for Korngold's gorgeous Violin Concerto. I thought the orchestra and soloist did an excellent job balancing each other, with Gilbert allowing Kavakos' lyricism to shine.

After intermission, the Philharmonic performed Nielsen's Symphony No. 3 for only the second time in the organization's history. Alan Gilbert has expressed a desire to expose Philharmonic audiences to Nielsen, and the orchestra provided a great showcase for this underrated symphony. I especially enjoyed the second movement with its wordless solos for soprano and baritone, and the finale with its lush Romantic melody for strings and horns. I didn't know much of Nielsen's music until a few years ago but he's quickly become a composer whose music I love and seek out when performed live. I hope Philharmonic audiences feel the same way.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Carmina burana at the New York Philharmonic

I'd never heard Carl Orff's Carmina burana live until I heard it performed by the New York Philharmonic with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and Orfeon Pamplones. I've listened to the piece countless times, analyzed the score, and performed it at Georgetown University when I was in college. But I hadn't had the opportunity to experience the work in concert before tonight.

Fruhbeck de Burgos kept the piece moving, barely pausing between movements. He conducted without a score and Orfeon Pamplones (the chorus) sang from memory. That was impressive. Carmina burana is a long, complex work in medieval German and Latin, with complex harmonies. The choir brought out the rhythms of the words, especially in the "In Taberna" section. I know that the aria "Olim lacus colueram" (the roasting swan) is meant to be funny, but I'd never thought of playing it for laughs. Tenor Nicholas Phan sang of his former life on the lakes with passion, then fanned his face as the men of the choir sang "Now I am roasted black!" After the second verse he tugged at his collar, and at the end of the aria he sat down with a thud, seemingly demoralized. Soprano Emalie Savoy brought out every ounce of Puccini-esque love in "In Trutina" and effortlessly hit the high notes in "Dulcissime." Baritone Jacques Imbrailo was confident in the solo parts of "In Taberna" and I enjoyed his interplay with the choir in those songs. The entire performance lasted barely an hour, but I could have listened to them sing the entire oratorio again. Even the teenagers and pre-teens in the audience, presumably there to see their friends in the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, were on their feet at the end of the work.

The first half of the concert was excerpts from Manuel de Falla's Atlantida, a cantata that he left unfinished at his death and was later completed by Ernesto Hallfter. It was not like anything of de Falla's music that I've heard before. I enjoyed it, especially the challenging harmonies and the excellent work of the chorus. But if these are just the excerpts, I'm not sure the world is ready for the full cantata (which apparently clocks in at around four hours). I was fine with the 25 minutes of music that we heard tonight.