Stepping in on two weeks’ notice for Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, but retaining her scheduled program, Paavo Järvi led the New York Philharmonic in dynamic and refreshing performances to begin New Year.
Järvi partnered with Gautier Capuçon in an immaculate performance of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, balancing Capuçon’s rather personal approach with a detail-oriented reading that brought forth charming wind countermelodies to the dominant string textures. Another defining characteristic was Järvi’s frequent use of stylized accelerandos – most notably in the first movement – to maintain an uncommon lightness and optimism. The brass also was in fine form, adding an expansive sonic dimension with impeccable intonation. Capuçon is a kinetic player, but still manages an effortless quality to his tone. Even the most delicate aspects were easily heard over the orchestra without even the suggestion of strain.
The Adagio may have leaned too far into the non troppo aspect of its marking, in a brisk account that was in danger of reaching allegretto. However, Järvi and Capuçon embraced a more traditional slowness in the recapitulation, creating a simultaneously nostalgic and novel conclusion. The Finale included all the fireworks one could want without giving way to bombast, and the moments of intimacy between Capuçon and concertmaster Frank Huang were divine. As an encore, Capuçon played Gregor Piatigorsky’s arrangement of the ‘Walk of the Little Soldiers’ from Prokofiev’s for-piano Music for Children, Opus 65.
‘Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari’, the opening movement of Sibelius’s (four) Lemminkäinen Legends (which includes ‘The Swan of Tuonela’), is an uneven work. At its worst it is unconvincing and fragmented, yet it thrives on any number of Sibelian trademarks. Emerging from an austere opening, the piece employs a Finnish folk-dance, and a number of other loosely structured elements. Järvi marshaled impressive and sustained energy from the orchestra, producing some sublime moments.
The Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé occupies the nexus of the familiar and the challenging – a place at which the Philharmonic thrives, for the specificity the composer demands keeps the musicians on their toes. Further, familiarity enables risk-taking between conductor and orchestra. This was Ravel at his most nuanced and persuasive, and on a night of first-rate solo work, principal flute Robert Langevin gave an especially inspired contribution, in color, line, and virtuosity.