New York Philharmonic/Maazel – Mozart & Debussy [Robert Langevin & Nancy Allen]

Symphony No.38 in D, K504 (Prague)
Concerto in C for Flute, Harp and Orchestra, K299
Jeux – poème dansé
Images pour orchestre – II: Ibéria

Robert Langevin (flute) & Nancy Allen (harp)

New York Philharmonic
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette

Reviewed: 13 October, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Lorin Maazel. Photograph: Silvia LelliLorin Maazel returns to the New York Philharmonic to lead two weeks of concerts. From the first note of Mozart’s ‘Prague’ Symphony the familiar string sound he cultivated as music director – brilliant but not strident in the violins, radiant and warm in the lower instruments – made a welcome reappearance. Maazel eschews the trappings of ‘period instrument’ influence on interpretation, much to the benefit of this particular symphony – unusual in form for Mozart with its almost-Baroque three-movement form, with a prolonged slow introduction, which here didn’t skimp on contrast or suspense, nor did the Allegro sacrifice charm or cheer, although Maazel did rein-in aspects that make it seem too much like a comic-opera overture. The momentum of Andante wasn’t quite leisurely, but the expressive playing (notably from the woodwinds) was outstanding. The finale was cheerful and rumbustious rather than the frenzied misfire that has been heard from highly-lauded period music exponents.

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp featured two Philharmonic principals – Robert Langevin and Nancy Allen. They were impressive from the get-go. Langevin’s sound is warmer than the most popular big-name soloists, and Allen, who was easily heard over the orchestra, deployed a wide array of articulations and tints in her playing. The gallant character the soloists brought to the first movement was particularly striking, and the unanimity of their playing in the cadenzas was dazzling.

Debussy’s Jeux, his last orchestral work, is a ballet score that dates from the same season as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and depicts a not-so-subtle ménage à trios around a tennis game. The rhapsodic, free-form work is reliant on repeating figures and motifs, dominated by major and minor thirds. Maazel’s ear for color and his canny pacing did a great deal to convey this work, which can often be a disconcerting mess, about as convincingly as I can imagine it, and a surprising number of details sounded very much like those used by Stravinsky in The Firebird. Was the young firebrand influencing the master?

Maazel put the focus on the rich orchestration of Ibéria; his downplaying of exaggerated percussive sounds in the first movement and emphasis on expressive cantabile in the melodies yielded luscious results. The central ‘Les parfums de la nuit’ was more sensual than languid, and the festive conclusion was a bit restrained. But that’s not to say that this listener was unsatisfied – the playing was superb and, as one has come to expect from Maazel, the music came with a strong, often provocative, point of view.

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