New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert – Christopher Rouse’s Phantasmata & Brahms 1 – Jan Vogler plays Schelomo

Schelomo – Hebraic Rhapsody for cello and orchestra
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Jan Vogler (cello)

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 22 February, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Alan Gilbert. Photograph: Chris LeeThis concert opened with evocative compositions by the New York Philharmonic’s composer-in-residence, Christopher Rouse (born 1949). His music is basically neo-romantic with atonal and diatonic elements, skillfully and creatively orchestrated, with imaginative use of percussion. Composed in the early 1980s as stand-alone pieces, the three movements of Phantasmata were inspired by dream images, and first-performed together in October 1986 by the Saint Louis Symphony and Leonard Slatkin. ‘The Evestrum of Juan de la Cruz in the Sagrada Familia at 3 A.M.’ portrays St. John’s out-of-body experience when wandering around Gaudi’s Cathedral of the Sacred Family in Barcelona. It has a Spanish flavor with touches of surrealism and mysticism. ‘The Infernal Machine’, from Cocteau’s play, depicts an enormous contraption whirring about incessantly and without purpose. ‘Bump’ refers “to dance-floor bumping … a nightmare conga”, whooping horns defending against the assault of percussion during the pandemonium. Throughout, Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic played up manic aspects and imbued contrastingly restful segments with the anticipation that they may soon be devoured by another onslaught of hysteria.

Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo (Solomon) was written in 1916. Although it has no specific program, Bloch intended a vivid symphonic portrait of the great biblical king, the enormity of his power, the pomp and luxury of his court, the dances of his wives and concubines, and the shrill cries of his warriors and slaves. An underlying pessimism pervades the work, possibly sourced in Solomon’s disillusion with life expressed in the memorable “vanity of vanities” passage in Ecclesiastes. Jan Vogler deftly executed the solo part’s technically demanding passages and imbued the exotic lyricism with rich and vibrant tone. The orchestra played with a measure of reserve that kept the performance from truly plumbing the depths or soaring to the heights of this stirring creation.

The concert closed with an impressive reading of Brahms’s First Symphony that neither offered new insights nor distorted the music with wayward affectations. Gilbert’s tempos were traditional, yet he infused the music with an extra measure of intensity and kept it moving seamlessly and with unflagging energy. The Philharmonic played extremely well, particularly the strings, although horns sometimes stood out too prominently. Gilbert has mastered this Symphony, shaping well each melodic line and building climaxes steadily and reaching them with full power, although some passages marked p or pp in the Andante might have been softer.

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