Results tagged “lincoln center presents” from ARTicles

Shostakovich's Piano Quintet is a weird and emotionally opaque piece of very good music. Perhaps the year it was written (1940) and the place (Leningrad) account for some of the equivocation, but it always was--and remains--incredibly hard to pin down. It begins with some strong chords on the piano (played, in the first performances, by the composer himself) but soon meanders off in other directions. There are sublimely beautiful moments in an almost traditional melodic vein on the first violin; there are march-like rhythms in unison on all the instruments; there are occasional passages of near-silent near-despair, when one or another of the string players ventures out alone. Some of the piano notes are so tinkly and hollow as to sound like a toy piano. Often the melodies decline into bitter, grotesque imitations of themselves.  Yet every moment of jarring dissonance is soon followed by something friendly and graspable, just as every quiet, slow passage is succeeded by a fast, loud one. And then the final movement, after all this disconcerting variety, brings us a chipper little Bridge Over the River Kwai-like tune that seems to assure us (but with no real reassurance whatsoever): Don't worry, ignore all that fearful stuff, everything will be JUST FINE

As I sat in Alice Tully Hall last night listening to the Takacs Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin give us a thoughtful, lively rendering of the Quintet, I kept thinking to myself:  This piece cries out for a Ratmansky dance.  I wish he would hurry up and do one, so as to explain this  strange, compelling music to me.
October 26, 2012 6:36 AM |
The version of Brahms's Fourth Symphony that I play all the time on my iPod was recorded by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. I bought the CD after hearing them play all four Brahms symphonies a couple of years ago at Carnegie Hall--their magnificent performance blew all the competition out of the water and made my old recording sound flat. This is the version that is in my ear, and in my memory, and I am very happy with it.

But last night I got a sense that there could be two superlative versions of the Brahms 4, in some ways very different from each other.  On Wednesday night at Avery Fisher Hall, Valery Gergiev led the adventurous London Symphony Orchestra in a performance that changed my feeling about the piece.  (The first half of the program, by the way, was equally exemplary:  Denis Matsuev in the First Piano Concerto.  But about that I have nothing to say except "Wow!")  Though the players are all excellent, the LSO feels like a slightly more anarchic, wild, untrammeled orchestra than the Berlin Philharmonic: strict cohesion has been replaced by something else that seems to work equally well. And Gergiev is a darker, moodier conductor than Rattle. The result is a scarier Brahms.  

When you listen to Rattle and the Philharmonic play the Fourth, it is as if you are on a galloping horse, surrounded by a hundred other galloping horses all running on the same beat.  It is thrilling and deeply pleasurable, and fun in the highest possible way. When you listen to Gergiev and the LSO, you are instead at the center of a whirlwind--a well-coordinated, finely tuned whirlwind, but a whirlwind that could nonetheless choose to sweep you up and smash you against a wall as easily as it could leave you in place.  The Gergiev Fourth is thrilling, too, but it is a more unnerving kind of thrill. He is the only conductor I've encountered who can repeatedly, and consistently, make music feel dangerous.

October 25, 2012 4:38 AM |


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