Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Radu Lupu (piano)
New York Philharmonic
Christoph von Dohnányi
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 1 February, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Christoph von Dohnányi led the New York Philharmonic in a Beethoven program that focused on works from the phase of the composer’s career in which his music was completing its emergence from the classicism of Mozart and Haydn. Conducting from memory throughout the concert, Dohnányi drew playing that showed off a great orchestra at its very best.
The concert began with a stirring rendition of the Overture to Beethoven’s ballet score for The Creatures of Prometheus. The orchestra’s marvelous sound in the opening series of chords, as well as the well-judged silences between them, created an immediate sense of anticipation. Dohnányi’s lively tempos then challenged the strings, the musicians responding with agility and richness of tone. Contrapuntal voices emerged with clarity, none eclipsing the other, and in the bounciest moments Dohnányi was virtually dancing on the podium.
Dohnányi and Radu Lupu emphasized the Mozartean roots of Beethoven’s first published, but second composed, Piano Concerto. The Allegro con brio’s bright orchestral introduction, accented by trumpet, horns and timpani, is reminiscent of Mozart’s orchestrations of C major works, and at the movement’s end, Lupu chose to play the shorter of the two cadenzas that Beethoven composed (a third was never completed), a relatively conventional interlude that ended with the usual extended trill rather than by the orchestra’s sudden entrance as in the more revolutionary cadenza that is most frequently performed. (The latter is filled with pyrotechnics and intricate passagework and far more reflective of the revolutionary composer that Beethoven was becoming.) The opening movement’s highlight was its development section, in which Lupu played with a soft, elegant touch that also shone through in the second-movement Largo alongside lovely clarinet solos by Pascual Martinez Forteza. Their duets, as if from a sonata, gently brought the movement to its concluding passages. In the rollicking finale, Lupu showed off Beethoven’s inventiveness.
After intermission, the Philharmonic’s performance of the Fifth Symphony crackled with electric energy from the opening measures to the glorious coda. Dohnányi plunged into the symphony with due regard for the composer’s con brio marking, declining to linger on the fermatas at the end of the famous four-note motif. The horn’s repetitions of that motif were striking, and the conversation between woodwinds and strings compelling. In the Andante, the cellos were extraordinarily resonant, as was the entire string section, and trumpets and bassoons also made notable contributions. The main theme of the scherzo, played boldly on the horns, reiterated the rhythmic pattern that pervades the symphony, and the progressively increasing complexity of the fugato section was the movement’s most dramatic feature. Dohnányi carefully held down the violins’ volume in order to enhance the dramatic effect of the crescendo that precedes the emergence of the finale’s stirring C major theme, with blazing trumpets and timpani joined by three trombones and contrabassoon that had sat silently through the first three movements. The joyousness of that idea was evident on the faces and in the body language of the orchestra’s members. The violas sang out sweetly playing the second subject as the violins provided accompanying ornamentation, and later Mindy Kaufman’s piccolo added a glorious touch to the coda that cranked up the level of excitement to an almost unbearable peak.