Lisa Hirsch's Classical Music Blog. The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve. Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost fairy time.
Opinions expressed on this blog are mine and not my employer's.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Alan Gilbert & the NYPO at Carnegie Hall, 2/14/10
I saw three of Alan Gilbert's guest appearance with the San Francisco Symphony, over a period of several years. I liked what he did with the recent music (Ades, Chamber Symphony; Adams, Naive & Sentimental Music) and a Nielsen symphony but thought his Mozart and Beethoven okay, not great. I was, to put it mildly, a little skeptical when the New York Philharmonic appointed him music director.
I saw him with the NYPO at Carnegie Hall in February, and I am no longer a skeptic. In fact, I sent friends email immediately after the program with the subject line "Give that man a 20-year contract."
Here's what they played:
Wagner, Rienzi Overture Magnus Lindberg, Clarinet Concerto Sibelius, Second Symphony
This program must have hit his exact sweet spot, because, I tell you, every note, every phrase, was absolutely RIGHT. I had no expectations about the Rienzi Overture, that overfamiliar chestnut, and it was great. Beautiful phrasing in the slow sections, with plenty of flexibility and lift, and exactly perfect tempo choices in the rest.
The Lindberg has been recorded, and I have the recording, but this was its American premier, with the clarinetist for whom it was written, Kari Kriikku. He is an unbelievable player; I cannot believe the sounds he gets out of that instrument. The concerto's a great piece, a free fantasy in which the soloist has material that sounds like a cross between space music and Messiaen on LSD, with plenty of backbone. The clarinet has to imitate I don't know how many different birds; my companion for the evening, who knows birds better than I do, said it was easy to recognize them. Kriikku and the orchestra played the hell out of it and it got an enormous ovation from the audience, the best receptions I have ever heard for a new piece.
I'm running out of superlatives here, so I'll just say that the Sibelius was magnificent in both detail and in overall conception. Gilbert's phrasing, his control of dynamics, of the architecture of the piece, absolutely grand and great. That was some Sibelius! Putting it another way, it was better than what I heard from Esa-Pekka Salonen and LAPO two years ago.
This was also the first time I'd heard an orchestra in Carnegie Hall, and they sounded like a million dollars. Surely part of the effect was the venue itself, the sound of which has a marvelous combination of warmth and transparency, and a great ability to disperse the sound without the room being overwhelmed, but that silky and gorgeous string tone? The awesome brass? Wow.
My friend told me that they sound like a different orchestra from under Maazel. Where he hears the difference, especially, is in the soft sections, where he says it always sounded as though Maazel was pressing them down or tamping them down. Gilbert's dynamics all sound completely organic and natural and beautiful, throughout the range.