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Carved in Stone (and Bleeding Chunks)

New York
David Geffen Hall
01/03/2019 -  & January 4*, 5, 2019
Antonín Dvorák: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, opus 104
Jean Sibelius: Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island, opus 22 No. 1
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2

Gautier Capuçon (cello)
New York Philharmonic, Paavo Järvi (conductor)

G. Capuçon (© Felix Broede)

“I felt like a king!”
Dvorák at Carnegie Hall

If there were one word to describe this particular concert, that word would be “febrile”. There are at least two statues of Dvorák in New York, one in the park in front of his home downtown and one at the Manhattan School of Music. He is, in a very real sense, America’s composer, not native born but remarkably perceptive and evocative. When Jarmila Novotná sang The Song to the Moon in Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 film The Search, audiences in the USA teared up.

The Cello Concerto was written for the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic at the time, Victor Herbert (there is a statue of him next to that of Beethoven in Central Park). It is an intense work, or at least should be in performance. The good news is that the Phil sounded better than this critic has encountered for many years. The repositioning of the celli up front stage left has aided in the creation of a much richer sound and even the brass were on their best behavior this afternoon. If there was bad news it was wrapped in the sometimes shrill tones of the soloist who eschewed the warmth of the score for a more whining sound in several key places. On the plus side, our cellist remained in a high state of dudgeon throughout, never letting the audience feel relaxed or satisfied. I can’t believe that I am saying this, but I would have wished for a little less energy, a little less angst.

This concert was to be directed by Mirga Grazinytė-Tyla, who would have been making her Philharmonic debut, but when she cancelled New York audiences were blessed with the choice of Paavo Järvi as her replacement. He and his father Neeme have been favorites here for many years and I say this even though I may have a bias since I was trained by an Estonian composer and have a deep and personal respect for their musicianship as a result. Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island is a movement from the Sibelius work Four Legends from the Kalevala, whose most famous section is The Swan of Tuonela. Here the ensemble was whipped into a whirlwind, tremendously exciting and colorful in the extreme. There were moments when it was difficult to remember that this was the local band.

Lastly the bleeding chunk that is the Ravel suite was reproduced quite faithfully and with a high degree of energy. Before its commencement, quite a few new musicians came onto the stage, including two harpists and a total of eight percussionists. All but the kitchen sink, as the idiom goes, except that Ravel cheats us out of the most interesting sonic phenomenon of the ballet as a whole: the disembodied voices from the pit. Still, the suite is tremendously exciting and was presented as such this afternoon. We are all still deciding what we think of Maestro Van Zweden but we can afford a moment of speculation as to what the ensemble might already be under this second generation Estonian.

Fred Kirshnit



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