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Dutch Treat

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
03/09/2024 -  & March 3 (Sarasota), 4 (West Palm Beach), 6 (Orlando), 7 (Miami), 9 (New York), 11 (Washington), 2024
Arvo Pärt: Swan Song
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E‑Flat Major “Jeunehomme”, K.271
Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 (Selections)

Daniil Trifonov (Pianist)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Lahav Shani (Chief Conductor)

L. Shani (© Bic)

A need to concentrate on each sound, so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower. I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.
Arvo Pärt

For more than a century, the Rotterdam Symphony Philharmonic Orchestra has been giving the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra a run for its reputation. Granted, the latter is far ahead in the fame department. But when the Rotterdam Phil hired the Israeli pianist-conductor Lahav Shani as their youngest Chief Conductor, they enjoyed an injection of youth into their ranks.

On the other hand, the opening work sounded old. It sounded like both the serenity and anger at death. The last work (which we’ll come to later) though, called for resurrection–of one William “the Bard” Shakespeare.

This first work, Swan Song by Arvo Pärt is rare in performance and emotion. No Fratres in one of its countless incarnations. Swan Song was orchestration of a piece written for choir and organ in honor of Cardinal John Henry Newman. (A fervent Eastern Orthodox believer, Pärt has always been eclectic).

As always with this composer, one is stunned by its modern colors, its two‑note themes, its medieval sounds–which aren’t medieval at all, but simple harmonies which wind and wind around themselves like a Möbius Loop. And though ending with the simplest dominant-tonic chords, one feels as if coming from a vaguely mythical land, an unsettling century.

D. Trifonov (© Steven Pisano)

The Daniil Trifonov selection should have been surprising, since one automatically associates him with the most bravura compositions. Prokofiev Rachmaninoff, Liszt, he tosses off with both aplomb and insoucience. What, then, was he doing with a relatively early Mozart concerto?

In part, he gave the “Jeunehomme” Concerto the Trifonov treatment. Those frequent runs up and down the keyboard in the opening movement were given the Rachmaninoff virtuosity. Glossy, smooth, with the kind of personality to allow colour gradations in the speediest moments. Yet Trifonov equally gave it his own speciality. A crystalline touch, a love for melody in the Andantino which were obviously an understanding of Classical inspiration.

The Rondo: Presto finale merged both the other-earthly skill of the opening with the clarity of the second. All quite appropriate, since Mozart–perhaps having consumed a few glasses of claret or having won a billiard game–was in the most joyous of spirits. (And joy, to Mozart, meant a thousand angels dancing on a pin.)

Mr. Trifonov did his own dancing. Musically he bounced off Mozart’s tricky octave jumps, he created his own proto‑jazzy rhythms. and when necessary, delved into a kind of ersatz not very serious lamentation. All the while jumping from his seat, conducting with his left hand to the right‑hand solos.

In other words, when playing the ultra-virtuosic works, he was offering the most complex multi‑taste Larousse Gastronomique recipes. With Mozart, it was Beluga Caviar with just a hint of lemon.

The last of the program was Mr. Shani’s own ten selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Most were well‑known, and the audience members nodded to each other as “Juliet” and “Capulets” came on.

Most impressive was conductor Lahav Shani. As Chief Conductor of the 106‑year‑old Rotterdam orchestra, he led them through a blazing hour, allowing musicians to give pinpoint accents to the ever-variegated orchestra. Would he be too fast for dancers? Oh, possibly. But this was less a ballet than a one‑hour dramatic suite.

Which returns me to the born-again dream. Not of everyone. Only William Shakespeare. I imagine taking him first to West Side Story, then to Prokofiev. (We’ll skip Berlioz and Tchaikovsky.) He would enjoy the Bernstein/Sondheim song‑and‑dance, hearing and watching a 20th Century masque with a few strange instruments.

As to Mr. Shani’s Romeo and Juliet, the Bard would laugh and cry and not believe his ears that such an extravaganza was created for his teenage love tragedy.

The emotions were mutual.

Harry Rolnick



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