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The Boy of Summer

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
08/14/2009 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Coriolan Overture – Piano Concerto No. 4 – Symphony No. 8
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (conductor)

Yevgeny Sudbin (© Clive Barda)

There has been a longstanding tradition in New York that summer musical performances are rather less polished and sophisticated than those during the season, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra has been toiling diligently for many years to uphold that tradition. Although they improved under the music directorship of Louis Langrée, they also quickly plateaued and seem to have taken at least one step backward in recent years.

One conductor who does seem to squeeze out the best that this group has to offer is the Finn Osmo Vänskä and Friday evening at Lincoln Center was no exception. The economic woes kept the upper levels from being occupied, but overall this was a tasty all-Beethoven concert.

As I often say about the regular residents of Avery Fisher, the New York Philharmonic, this was about as good as it ever gets with this particular ensemble. Maestro Vänskä did lead a reasonably dramatic Coriolan Overture, although there was a decided lack of bite and a paucity of heft. Perhaps they just can’t dig down as deep in those white jackets.

Lack of heft haunted a rather unsatisfactory Piano Concerto No. 4. Young soloist Yevgeny Sudbin stumbled from the outset. The work is notable for an exceptional pianistic beginning, a theme of great comfort and nobility. However, Mr. Sudbin announced immediately that this would not be a rendition dripping in gravitas, choosing for some reason to perform the opening in a light and singsong manner. These few measures presaged a performance notable for its lack of mature phrasing.

Mr. Sudbin is indeed young and can be forgiven many indiscretions, however, he went off the rails so often in this performance that I am sure that he himself was highly dissatisfied with his effort. The orchestra was fine, although Maestro had to look over quite often to keep at least a semblance of coordination. These concerts are repeated on Saturday evenings; hopefully the net effect was much smoother then.

Very disappointingly, Mr. Vänskä opened the second half of the program with a stunt. Long before his welcoming applause had died away, he wheeled around and began the Symphony No. 8. This led to the inevitable turning of hundreds of patrons to their neighbors to discuss the maneuver. Fortuitously, this initial music is reprised, so we did get to hear it played well the second time.

Although there were a number of errors of commission and enthusiasm, Maestro should be commended for catching the raucous spirit of the work, what Jupiter Symphony conductor Jens Nygaard used to call “Beethoven’s muddy boots.” Attending this concert with somewhat lowered expectations, this reviewer left reasonably pleased.

Fred Kirshnit



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