Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K271
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
New York Philharmonic
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Thursday, April 19, 2012
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We often talk about the sound of an orchestra as if it were a constant, but hearing the New York Philharmonic on two consecutive Thursdays, in the same hall, served as a reminder of how much influence a conductor can have. Under Herbert Blomstedt the string section for the Tchaikovsky, comparable in size to the forces that played in the previous week's disappointing Mahler, now sounded warm and full without turning harsh, producing some of the most colorful and nuanced playing heard all season. And by occasionally reining in the brass, Blomstedt achieved good balance between the different sections of the orchestra for a powerful, yet never less than beautiful statement of the piece.
This was most noticeable in the finale, which one often hears as a flashy, blaring showpiece. Honoring the composer's tempo indications, Blomstedt created a perfect progression from the opening Andante maestoso to the triumphant restatement of the material after the false ending on the dominant (which can trigger applause if approached too emphatically). This climax of the movement was molto maestoso indeed, majestic, stately, all the more powerful since the tension had not previously been released; Blomstedt had not given away the goods along the way. Still vital at nearly 85, conducting standing and without a score, he is a master of structure, of long lines of thought and building up tension. As admirably demonstrated here, this leads to much greater excitement than playing up every fortissimo and pushing tempos beyond recognition.
Blomstedt also demonstrated his fine ear for color from the dark, brooding beginning of the symphony, to the even darker ending of the movement, with plenty of sweep and passion in between. The second movement was a paragon of beautiful string sonority, without getting sentimental, noteworthy also for the fine contributions of horn-player Philip Myers and oboist Liang Wang. The filigree in the strings and winds in the Valse was tossed off with ease, while perfectly integrated into the overall flow and lilt of the movement. Altogether this was as fine performance of the Tchaikovsky as one could wish for.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the Mozart, which opened the concert. While Blomstedt elicited lovely playing from the scaled-down orchestra, Garrick Ohlsson gave a merely average, under-characterized performance. At the beginning of the finale he offered more engagement and insight, but he soon reverted to his understated approach. While it is hailed as Mozart's first masterpiece in the genre, this performance did not lift it beyond being a pleasant concerto.