New York Philharmonic/Noseda – 19 November

Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD Annum
Concerto No.1 for Cello and Orchestra, Op.107
Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.44

Truls Mørk (cello)

New York Philharmonic
Gianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 19 November, 2003
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

For his New York Philharmonic debut, conductor Gianandrea Noseda united three 20th-century Russian composers – Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev – who struggled with the question: Should Russians should look inward or outward for inspiration? Stravinsky’s pro-Western identification was evident in the opening piece, Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD Annum, a tour de force of orchestration based on three late madrigals by the Renaissance composer. A highly original work, the piece calls for a limited array of instruments: two oboes, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, and strings without double basses. Noseda led an evocative reading of the work, accenting the instrumental colors of the slender orchestration.

Although shaken politically and creatively by changing Socialist theories and aesthetics, Shostakovich remained rooted in his native Russia. His First Cello Concerto, which dates from 1959, is a particularly rewarding example of a work in which he managed to keep his own voice while officially complying with the policy of “Socialist Realism” – art which glorified the political and social ideals of Communism. Beneath the surface, the concerto injects a measure of irony, and expanses of the piece are thoroughly sardonic. In the final movement, the composer even managed to work in an allusion to Stalin’s favorite piece of music, the Georgian folk song “Suliko”.

Noseda and cellist Truls Mørk approached the Allegretto with a driving attack, sustaining an astonishingly fast and thrilling pace throughout the movement and emphasising the aggressive mottoes in the solo part. The tempo for the Moderato was rather slow and picked up only slightly as the movement progressed. Mørk played with great beauty throughout the piece, approaching the mournful cadenza with noble passion. The Allegro con moto finale exploded at a very fast pace, with Mørk and Noseda finding the right acerbic tone.

Like Stravinsky, Prokofiev moved to Paris and explored various Western modes of musical expression. By the mid-1930s, however, he had resettled permanently in Russia, where he faced the same pressures that Shostakovich experienced. In his Third Symphony, composed while he was still living in France, we find Prokofiev well into his astringent modernist mode. The piece is a synthesis of ideas derived from his opera The Fiery Angel, a mystical tale about a nun who is haunted by visions of an angel. Much of the work is intense, and in some places the music is downright brutal, but there are also moments of immense lyricism and deep introspection. Noseda led the Philharmonic in an exciting, passionate performance which brought coherence to the widely disparate elements of the piece: the weird clashing harmonies of the opening, the quiet and more lyrical moments of the second movement, the anxiety and scurrying strings of the third, and the shattering chords of the finale. In sum, this was an absolutely thrilling performance, rightly cheered by the audience.

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