New York Philharmonic – Jeffrey Kahane plays Mozart K482 and conducts Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano and Haydn’s Miracle Symphony

Piano Concerto No.22 in E-flat, K482
Trittico Botticelliano
Symphony No.96 in D (Miracle)

New York Philharmonic
Jeffrey Kahane (piano)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 3 January, 2020
Venue: David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Jeffrey Kahane leading Mozart's Piano Concerto No.22 from the piano with the New York PhilharmonicPhotograph: Chris LeeThis delightful concert opened with Jeffrey Kahane conducting Mozart’s stylish E-flat Concerto, K482, from the keyboard. The NYP musicians responded most expressively, with the wind players – especially the clarinets – displaying extraordinary eloquence in the gentle Andante. Altogether, this was an inspired reading, with the music from both the orchestra and piano unfolding gracefully and seamlessly. The opening Allegro was vigorous and tuneful, the slow middle movement deeply felt, and the finale appropriately buoyant. Kahane’s sensitive but unostentatious pianistic style and the orchestra’s flawless, dynamically-precise accompaniment conveyed all the joy and elegance of Mozart’s subtle and highly differentiated scoring. Kahane used his own captivating cadenzas in the outer movements, with the timpani’s jubilant response near the end of the first cadenza coming as a surprise, yet feeling particularly apt.

After intermission came a resplendent account of Respighi’s Botticelli Triptych, its three movements inspired by well-known paintings produced by the illustrious Renaissance painter and housed in the Uffizi Gallery, where the composer found inspiration for the piece. The orchestra responded well to Kahane’s skillful conducting, which effectively highlighted the contrasting colors and moods in the richly-textured score. ‘La primavera’ (Spring) budded and gradually expanded into three-dimensional, kaleidoscopic bloom, framed by shimmering violins. The seasonally-appropriate centerpiece, ‘L’adorazione dei Magi’ (The Adoration of the Magi), was both exotic and reverential. The final movement, representing Botticelli’s best-known painting, La nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus), was notable for its meticulously-balanced dynamics as the gentle and gradually swelling music depicted the waves bringing the radiant goddess to shore (her arrival slightly marred by someone’s phone ringing while the orchestra was still playing the final notes). This was nevertheless a splendid performance distinguished by expressive playing from the woodwinds, in particular the solos delivered by Judith LeClair’s poignant bassoon, Anthony McGill’s vibrant clarinet, and Robert Langevin’s full-bodied flute.

The joyful, thoughtfully-constructed program ended with a graceful and lively account of Haydn’s engaging Symphony No.96, nicknamed the ‘Miracle’ from the still widely-circulated story (debunked by the composer’s nineteenth-century biographer Albert Christoph Dies) that a chandelier crashed to the floor during its London premiere without injuring anyone. The highlights of this performance were the appealing violin solo by concertmaster Frank Huang in the Andante, Sherry Sylar’s enchanting oboe solo in the third movement Trio, and the impressive ensemble work by the rest of the Philharmonic musicians throughout the entire work.

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