Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Mysteries of the Macabre
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Christopher Martin (trumpet)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Christopher Browner
Reviewed: 5 October, 2016
Venue: David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Two 20th-century compositions with arguably the most famous work in music history, Beethoven’s Fifth, made up this New York Philharmonic concert.
Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, under the direction of Alan Gilbert, was a study in sustained musical tension. Gilbert kept the strings restrained in the opening movement which grew into an intricate web of winding figures that offered little resolution. The middle movements were respectively frenzied and eerie and featured tight coordination of performance, Bartók’s two string ensembles, with the percussion and the melodic celesta placed in the middle, dueled, the musical line moving between them. The jauntiness of the Finale was short-lived for the chaotic spirit ultimately returns, and a rousing conclusion was delivered.
After intermission, Christopher Martin (New York Philharmonic principal trumpet) played György Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, effectively three soprano arias transcribed from his opera Le Grand Macabre. It’s a crazed soundscape and features spoken phrases from the musicians alongside the crumpling of newspapers and also whistles. Martin contributed virtuosic playing at the extremes of the trumpet’s range that added to the joyful cacophony.
In Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony Gilbert injected it with fresh vigor, explosive dynamics and brisk tempos. The iconic first movement was enlivened with vivid color whereas the fugal center of the third movement was so hurried that the strings struggled to keep up. The excitement culminated in a triumphant Finale imbued with grandeur and celebration.