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Cajones in the Concert Hall

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
12/13/2012 -  & December 14, 15*, 2012
Jean Sibelius: Symphonies No. 3 in C Major, Opus 52, & No. 7 in C Major, Opus 105
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 54

Jan Lisiecki (Pianist)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, David Zinman (Conductor)

D. Zinman (© Courtesy of the Artist)

It seems inconceivable that Sibelius’ final symphony, virtually his last work, was written about the same year as Wozzeck and L’Histoire du Soldat. Not that it was a sin for the Finnish composer to dawdle in the 19th Century all his life (one could say the same for Richard Strauss or Camille Saint-Saëns). But the C Major Symphony, as played last night by David Zinman and the New York Philharmonic resembled music written centuries earlier.

The brass alone (led by that always splendid horn player, Philip Meyer) could have been playing one of Gabrielli’s canzone, resonating through St. Mark’s instead of Avery Fisher Hall. The long, long string passages resembled one of Vaughan Williams’ orchestrations of an old Anglican hymn.

In way, this performance of the Seventh Symphony was striking because, not having listened for a long time, it was less part of the Romantic Nordic wilderness as an archaic remnant, emulsified into a thick, porridge.

Yet even porridge has its admirers. David Zinman usually does a splendid job with other grandiose composers of the period, but, perhaps because he was called in at the last moment to replace an ailing Daniel Harding, the Symphony was given a porridge-bland performance. Fluent and faultless, yes, but saved from torpor by the horn calls and some luscious playing by the strings.

This was the second Sibelius of the evening. The Third Symphonywas given a reading of gravity, large lingering chords and forest-deep fanfares.

I was reminded, however, of a week in Hong Kong when all seven symphonies were played by the Helsinki City Symphony, hardly in the halcyon of the New York Phil. Yet, while they may not have been the world’s grandest orchestra, their lean, linear and, yes, provincial playing could be a lesson for other conductors who who come precariously close to tossing the symphonies into the Slough of Lugubriousness.

J. Lisiecki (© Deutsche Grammophon)

Many in the audience were obviously not Sibelius-lovers, because they walked out right after the young, gangly brilliant Canadian-Polish prodigy (specifically Calgary, Alberta) Jan Lisiecki play Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Mr. Lisiecki, making his Phil debut, is not eccentric, but he is idiosyncratic–which is exactly what this extravagant Concerto calls for.

When Mr. Lisiecki was poetic, in the beginning of the concerto, in the whole second movement, his playing was a series of perfumed breaths. When he rushed up the scales to show his super-virtuosity, Mr. Lisiecki was incredibly impressive, even his blurring in the finale not out of place.

David Zinman set the pace for each theme, but Mr. Lisiecki carried them in his own way. The duet with clarinet was tossed off, without much depth, the cadenza was raced with energy but not much life. In the coda, Mr. Lisiecki rightly exploded with all the brilliance his fingers could give him.

But if he showed what a grand pianist he could be, I never felt the vitality of the work as a whole. For all Jan Lisiecki’s youthful élan and digital cajones, Robert Schumann’s sparkle and encompassing brilliance were left waiting at the gate.

Harry Rolnick



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