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Criss Cross

New York
Carnegie Hall
01/25/2003 -  
Bela Bartok: Piano Concerto # 2
Pierre Boulez: Figures-Doubles-Prismes
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Orchestre National de Lyon
David Robertson (conductor)

For primitive man, the journey from the alluvial plain of the Danube to the pripet marshes of ancient Russia would have been an extremely long and arduous one, but metaphorically it is but a short step for a modern music listener. In an interesting program, the Orchestre National de Lyon presented works of two of the most prominent composers of the previous century and, in the process, reversed the roles of their scholastic atavism. The Rite of Spring is the most Bartókian of all of the compositions of Igor Stravinsky, its exploration of elemental rhythms in all of their splendid complexity a parallel to the Hungarian’s preoccupation with native accents and their extraordinary power. The Second Concerto of Bartók is his one and only nod to Stravinskiian Neo-Classicism, the naked sonorities of small instrumental groups right out of the Russian’s sonic textbook. As an object lesson, this concert had great potential.

Unfortunately, conductor David Robertson did not make a strong case for these remarkable similarities. For example, squandering an intelligent and athletic performance of soloist Leif Ove Andsnes, who bravely stepped into the breach on relatively short notice after the cancellation of Kyung-Wha Chung and her proposed traversal of Bartók’s Concerto # 2 for her particular instrument (a portrait of Ms. Chung still hung prominently in the Carnegie lobby this night as the featured artist of their January schedule), Robertson, the perennial bridesmaid in the seemingly constant search for new music directors in America, led a surprisingly heavy-footed reading of this normally light-stepping tour-de-force. Although his seating arrangement was promising, with horns and double reed instruments intermixed in the front with the strings, the net result was wobbly at best. The piece relies on subtle klangfarbenmelodie, each movement, and even sections of movements, comprising a different combination of solo instrument and ensemble group. The opening wind section was in trouble almost from the outset and, even though the players rallied somewhat midcourse, by the end of the first movement, these tooters were obviously tired and dragging. The slower sections of the middle movement were better, although the Lyon string tone was uninspired. Mr. Andsnes’ powerful interpretation and realization of this difficult text (a real finger breaker, according to pianist friends) kept matters interesting, but even he seemed to miss the natural gusto and élan of such a delightful piece (written, according to the composer himself, as an antidote to his severe Concerto # 1).

The allegro finale was designed by Bartók the colorist to be a glorious kaleidoscope of orchestral sound, the more notable because of its being the only section employing the entire group. However, this night, the ragged sonority of the orchestra as a whole, and the tinny, out of tune brass section in particular, seemed more a punishment than a reward. I have no prior familiarity with this particular band, and so have no idea as to whether Mr. Robertson has improved them over time, but, in any case, they have a long, long road to travel before being up to orchestral snuff. Perhaps Maestro is simply warming for his next assignment: he is scheduled to conduct the New York Philharmonic in February.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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