New York Philharmonic/Robertson – 26 November

Fantaisie for piano and orchestra
Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat, Op.10
Also sprach Zarathustra

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

New York Philharmonic
David Robertson

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 26 November, 2003
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Since becoming Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in September 2002, Lorin Maazel has done a good job of getting promising younger conductors onto the orchestra’s roster. Robert Spano, Osmo Vänskä and Gianandrea Noseda have made their Philharmonic debuts this year, and Antonio Pappano will mount the orchestra’s podium in February. David Robertson made an acclaimed and long overdue Philharmonic debut in April 2001 and has done exciting work with the orchestra ever since, including this concert, in which he shared the stage with the extraordinary French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

The program began with Debussy’s rarely heard Fantaisie. In this three-movement, artfully integrated piece – a “concerted” work rather than a completely developed concerto – the extensive piano part is more of a first among equals than a showcase for a virtuoso soloist. Instead of taking the limelight, the piano adds to the overall texture of the music, avoiding the conflict between soloist and orchestra that is more typical of a concerto. In this performance, Aimard’s elegant, lyrical playing blended smoothly with the lush sounds of the orchestra in a performance that highlighted the modernistic qualities of Debussy’s music.

The Debussy was followed by another seldom-heard work, Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto, a tightly constructed piece, which the composer described as his “first more-or-less mature composition, both in conception and realization.” Aimard’s playing of this energetically rhythmic piece was brilliant – precise and articulate, with all the exuberant emotion that Prokofiev demands, while Robertson’s accompaniment was full, rich and dynamic but never overpowering. Throughout the piece, Aimard displayed an astounding technical facility and a surprisingly wide dynamic range, handling the quieter moments with great delicacy and bringing out all the Prokofievian wit and sparkle of the more spirited moments. At the end of the piece, members of the orchestra joined the audience in giving Aimard an appropriately rousing ovation.

The program ended with Also sprach Zarathustra, a huge challenge that Robertson brought off magnificently, delivering an electrifying and memorable performance of Strauss’s episodic and volatile work. Robertson made the structure of the score clear in a performance in which the music moved constantly and inevitably forward, without sacrificing spontaneity or drama. Glenn Dicterow, long-time Concertmaster for the Philharmonic, delivered especially beautiful and bittersweet solo work in the ’Das Tanzlied’ section, and Robertson kept the orchestra at a high energy level throughout the 35-minute work. The audience gave the performance deservedly long and enthusiastic applause.

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