New York Philharmonic/David Zinman – Sibelius 3 & 7 – Jan Lisiecki plays Schumann

Symphony No.3 in C, Op.52
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105

Jan Lisiecki (piano)

New York Philharmonic
David Zinman

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 13 December, 2012
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

David Zinman. Photograph: davidzinman.orgDavid Zinman, replacing an indisposed Daniel Harding, led the New York Philharmonic in two Sibelius symphonies and Schumann’s Piano Concerto, with Jan Lisiecki making an auspicious debut.

In Sibelius’s Third Symphony Zinman favored moderate, unrushed tempos, giving melodies a chance to bloom and facilitating clarity in the many extended sixteenth-note string passages. The cellos projected a warm tone in the symphony’s opening measures (along with the double basses) and in the dolce melody that soon followed. The violins were a bit tentative at their first entrance, but otherwise played with accuracy and enthusiasm, and the viola section was outstanding in the lengthy spiccato passage that accompanied Judith LeClair’s fine bassoon solo. The winds, horns and brass made strong contributions, most notably in the first movement’s chorale-like coda. In the Andantino con moto, the persistent ritornello theme first announced by the flutes flagged somewhat until the episode late in the movement in which pizzicato strings gave way to chattering flutes and then oboes and bassoon. The strings evoked an aura of poignancy as they played the theme for the last time. The finale did little more than mark time until violas and cellos intoned the movement’s main theme, playing very broadly in response to Zinman’s sweeping gestures. As the horns took over the theme, and were joined by the trombones and finally the trumpets, the movement grew in both urgency and grandeur up to the dramatic closing chords. This was a genial but less than exciting performance.

17-year-old Jan Lisiecki is a student at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto, and this performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto portends well for his already well-launched career. He displayed excellent technique and unfailing musicality in his phrasing, and he was not afraid to play softly. Zinman was an ideal accompanist, keeping piano and orchestra in fine balance and synchrony. In the opening Allegro affettuoso, after the orchestra’s forte E, Lisiecki emphatically attacked the piano’s initial chords, played gracefully in his first extended solo passage, and spun out a sweet line in duet with Mark Nuccio’s clarinet. Lisiecki plunged into the cadenza at high speed, contrasting with the Andante tempo with which it ended. Lisiecki’s gentle touch embodied the ‘Intermezzo’, marked Andantino grazioso. The cellos and violas were radiant and the violins were also in fine form trading phrases with the piano. Lisiecki adeptly negotiated the finale’s rapid passagework and trills and, after a brief fugato orchestral section, he echoed the winds’ syncopated second theme, and projected a twirling, dance-like spirit as the concerto swept to its finish.

After intermission, the concert ended with a stirring performance of Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony, featuring Joseph Alessi’s glowing trombone solos intoning the recurring theme around which this one-movement work is structured. In the introductory section, the deeply resonant cellos and double basses stood out, along with evocative rising and falling figures on the winds. The atmosphere changed dramatically as the main theme emerged from the dense orchestral texture and led the way into much more chaotic music. Horns throbbed, winds, strings and timpani chased one other around in circles, and whirling strings sounded almost like the buzzing of bees. The reappearance of the trombone’s motto changed the atmosphere again, with alternating bouts of agitation and calm surrounding a genial theme on the winds. From the final trombone solo onward, the horns, brass and timpani played a central role, interrupted by the strings’ touching lament. The final dissonant crescendo on the brass and the rising strings brought the work to a sudden and emotionally powerful conclusion.

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