Monday, February 05, 2007

With the Living in a Living Language

Well, I'll have to pile on to Nate's orchestra-reviewing bandwagon with some notes of my own, since Esa-Pekka Salonen & the NY Phil absolutely blew the roof off of Avery Fisher Hall this weekend with Pictures at an Exhibition. The opening trumpet promenade was snappy and alert, heralding a performance that was vivid and always on its toes: Salonen shaded it where appropriate with subtle details and animated every movement with thrilling energy and activity. He can pull off a Ravellian colorfest as well as anyone else: the orchestra was just shining. Incredibly good playing top to bottom from the Phil, especially in the brass. This came after a fantastic & fountain-like performance of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin; plenty to fill you up with. Somewhere deep in my ears I'm still happily resonating with Saturday night.

Salonen's own Piano Concerto got its premiere at these concerts too, Yefim Bronfman at the ivories. This is what drew me to the concert in the first place, and it's a piece worth hearing, though I've got mixed feelings about it. Three movements, about 35 minutes long—romantically proportioned and not far off in spirit.

This Concerto is always in motion, whirling through consonant but richly colored harmonies, riding grooves established by the discursive piano part or streamers of string & woodwind lines. Set off against the Ravel it felt a bit foggy—understandable since it's new, more complex, and thicker—but the colors were still appealingly translucent and often earthy too. Shiny embellishments hung off of it in the form of mallet percussion highlights or atomized fanfarish brass figures. It's a good kind of aesthetically pleasing modernism, with a bracing caffeinated kick to it.

But it's not truly a romantic-style piece: it doesn't ever reach catharsis, though it reaches for it in the particularly opulent closing part of the middle movement. What it settles into is a romantically charged atmosphere, and then the weather never really breaks; I felt like it lit me up some and then stopped surprising me. It's like a brilliantly constructed kaleidoscope: it's not going to hold your attention for incredibly long, no matter how beautifully its patterns recombine. I didn't find much of the piano part very memorable, either, though Bronfman got some exercise out of it.

The very last sound in this piece is a resplendent shard of a chord; it's that moment I want to hear again.

Speaking of which, the NY Philharmonic temporarily streams concert recordings from their website—I didn't know this till now—so in the second half of February you can listen to this yourself if you're so inclined. (It'll be worth your time, I think.)

Salonen's on his way up as a composer, and I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more. (This is the first orchestra piece I've heard live, though there are a couple of very good recordings out there. I did hear his cello & chamber orchestra concerto "Mania" a couple of years ago, which struck me similarly to the Piano Concerto.) I wonder if he'll find a way to punch up his language a bit—he's got a rare gift for these sparklers of sound, and I think some more overt drama would really start to set off fireworks.

I went to the concert with my NYC friends Andy & Lisa; then it turned out that Mandy was there with a couple of coworkers, and I also ran into Stu, who had come down from New Haven to hear it too. So we all got to enthuse together in the lobby afterwards for a few minutes. As Mandy put it, "I wish you'd run into young people like this at every orchestra concert."


Post a Comment

<< Home