New York Philharmonic New Season – Lorin Maazel & James Galway

John Stafford Smith
The Star-Spangled Banner
Roman Carnival – Overture, Op.9
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Sir James Galway (flute)

New York Philharmonic
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 17 September, 2008
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Lorin MaazelAmerica’s oldest orchestra launched its 167th season with a gala concert before a sold-out, black-tied-and-gowned audience in Avery Fisher Hall. Beginning his seventh and final season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducted a program of crowd-pleasers culminating in an emotionally taut performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The program was captured by television cameras for “Live from Lincoln Center” and broadcast nationally by PBS.

For the greater part of the evening, the orchestra sounded magnificent under the baton of the 78-year-old Maazel, who looked as energetic, limber and masterful as he did back during his inaugural season (2002-2003) with the Philharmonic.

As is traditional on Philharmonic opening nights, the concert opened with “The Star-Spangled Banner” (music by John Stafford Smith to words by Francis Scott Key). Maazel and the orchestra delivered a rousing performance, during which many audience members sang along.

The national anthem was immediately followed by a wonderfully precise and energetic account of Berlioz’s exuberant Roman Carnival Overture. Maazel seemed deeply involved in the Berlioz, and the Philharmonic strings responded with superb ensemble work. Thomas Stacy communicated magnificent warmth in the extended solo for English horn (cor anglais).

Sir James GalwayThe performance of Ibert’s accessibly melodic Concerto for Flute and Orchestra was less effective. James Galway, playing from the score, executed the technically difficult passages with ease, but seemed strangely univolved during the more lyrical sections. His technical skills and musicianship were most impressive in the ending of the third movement, in which he managed the unbelievably tough fingerings and sudden changes of register with great stamina and lively sparkle. Although the flute plays almost nonstop during the piece, which ignores the usual concerto pattern of alternating soloist-centered passages with orchestral episodes, the smallish orchestra was also kept busy throughout the work, but Maazel and the players seemed to be doing most of that work on autopilot.

The audience gave the performance less than ebullient applause, but it was enough to prompt Galway and the orchestra to perform an encore: a routine rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.

The evening’s biggest and most successful statement was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. With perfectly crisp ensemble, Maazel built up the tension of the opening movement steadily and precisely. The similarly purposeful Andantino, with its melancholy oboe solo beautifully executed by Liang Wang, was warmly and persuasively lyrical. The scherzo was taken very fast, while the finale exhibited wonderful sparkle and power. The Philarmonic string playing was peerless throughout. Overall, this was an incisive, richly-textured and highly satisfying performance.

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