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Poetry In Emotion

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
01/23/2008 -  & January 24*, 25, 26
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto

Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 6

Radu Lupu (piano)

New York Philharmonic, Riccardo Muti (conductor)

In a land where the words “God” and “faith” are spewed out of political mouths like spitballs, finding an audience for Anton Bruckner is not easy. While the provincial Austrian composer wrote his share of blatantly religious music, it was in his symphonies where un-American words like humility and empathy took on musical meaning. Yet Avery Fisher Hall was filled, though few under the age of 40 were to be seen. They may have come for Radu Lupu or the splendid talents of Riccardo Muti. But the rarely-played Bruckner Sixth Symphony took up two-thirds of the evening, and Muti gave it an energetic almost magisterial performance.

One cannot fathom why the Sixth is not more popular. Its length is less than an hour, the melodies are sharp, the slow movement has the sweetness of the Mahler Fifth Symphony Adagietto, and it ends with all the brass blaring. On the other hand, unless one has made a fervent study of Bruckner themes, it hardly hangs together, and the musical logic can be elusive. One thinks (as did Mahler when he introduced two movements of the symphony) that it should be cut, that the stuffing is made of uninteresting ingredients, and that the unvarying patterns of four-measure phrases range on monotony.

One hurdle which Muti jumped with ease, though, was the dubious Bruckner orchestration. Bruckner knew his instruments well, but perhaps the most religious part of the symphonies was the “organ” coloration. The brass sound like a brass register on the organ, the strings have a chordal sameness, though his undoubted pantheistic leanings, he used this woodwinds more sparingly as stylized nature calls, like his idol Wagner.

Muti, though, has such an art with the New York Philharmonic that he could bring out inner voices of the most dense horn-and-trumpet chorales. He held the first movement together with an emphasis on the restless rhythms behind the themes and horn calls. (And once again, it must be emphasized that the NY Phil horn corps is second to none!) That second movement is a bit obscure at first hearing, but its uplifting sweetness was almost tender.

One must, however criticize the Phil program for putting only the English for Bruckner’s German directions. The Adagio marked here “Solemn” is hardly a decent translation for “Sehr feierlich”, which is more appropriately “ceremonial”.

After the Scherzo, Muti used the finale for brass fanfares where one could well hear the second and third trumpets and horns with their own figurations. The coda was almost an apologia for keeping audiences waiting so long, and, in the words of Donald Tovey ,“sparkled like a Homeric sea.”

The opening work was Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and here the great Rumanian Radu Lupu was more poetic, more personal, than in his solo recital last week. Muti never pushed the opening movement, giving Lupu time to exercise his poetry over the keys, and in an especially touching dialogue with clarinet. Even in the cadenza, he rushed forward only for a few measures, allowing Schumann to work his own magic.

But one especially noticed Lupu’s genius for bringing out hidden melodies. His left hand turned harmonic accompaniment into more dominant music. In the finale, he even found a little fragment of a waltz in the bass, which I had never heard before.

Lupu is not exactly an iconoclast, but he is certainly an original, whose virtuosity was never for show, always for revealing Schumann’s haunting poetry and hidden paths.

Harry Rolnick



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