New York Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel – Sibelius 2 – Yefim Bronfman plays Brahms

Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Yefim Bronfman (piano)

New York Philharmonic
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 16 January, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Lorin Maazel. Photograph: Silvia LelliLorin Maazel, beginning a two-week visit to the New York Philharmonic, led a program of works by Brahms and Sibelius with Yefim Bronfman as soloist. In a throwback to his seven-year stint as the orchestra’s music director, Maazel seated the second violins behind the firsts, eschewing the antiphonal arrangement favored by his successor, Alan Gilbert. Maazel’s continuing rapport with the New York musicians and audience was evident.

Yefim Bronfman. Photograph: Dario AcostaMaazel attacked with vigor the extended orchestral introduction to Brahms’s opening Maestoso, the dark foreboding of timpani rolls, arpeggios and trills giving way to a tender melody on the strings accompanied by haunting bassoons and horns. A propulsive tutti preceded the piano’s entry, with Bronfman initially playing softly and expressively as marked, then building to a powerful echo of the trilling motif that begins the work. In the movement’s two extended solo piano passages the theme sang out sweetly, in stark contrast to Bronfman’s forceful playing in the coda. The Adagio was light as air, marked by fine woodwind and horn solos at the movement’s beginning and end and Bronfman’s expressive and introspective playing. He set a brisk tempo for the finale, teaming with Maazel to bring interesting shape to each of the variations on the lively opening theme. These included a syncopated piano solo, a fugato passage for strings, a cadenza played with much rubato, and a section with a ‘Turkish’ flavor that featured bassoon, timpani and oboes, with piano trills and scales leading into the coda to cap a rousing performance.

Sibelius’s Second Symphony has long been among Maazel’s favorites, even having been included in his penultimate Philharmonic program as music director in 2009. He evoked fine playing from the orchestra, fashioning a performance that brought out both the work’s sunny evocations of nature and its heroic motifs. In the first movement, Maazel fashioned a coherent whole from disparate fragments. The strings were outstanding, playing surging chords, pizzicato inversions of woodwind themes, and rapid, even buzzing, runs. Woodwinds and brass dashed off solo after solo with élan, with Philip Smith’s trumpet prominent here as throughout the symphony. The entire Philharmonic performed superbly in the extraordinary second movement, beginning with a timpani roll, triple-metered pizzicato cellos and double basses and a bassoon duet. Featured along the way were two passages for a brilliant brass choir and a duet for trumpet and flute. Maazel drew fine dramatic effect from the silent moments. The scherzo was marked by the dazzling agility of the Philharmonic’s string-players and by Liang Wang’s oboe solos in the trio. In the finale, a heroic theme on the strings soared above rhythmic accompaniments from the low brasses and was topped off by three trumpets. Maazel jacked up the tension as the main theme, generally associated with Finnish patriotism, repeated again and again while cellos and violas rumbled and woodwinds whirled obsessively. In the coda, the brass section was resplendent, the D major chords blazing.

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