New York Philharmonic – Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Farrenc and Dvořák – Bruce Liu plays Rachmaninoff

Overture No.2

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43

Symphony No.7 in D-minor, Op. 70

Bruce Liu (piano)

New York Philharmonic
Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 15 February, 2024
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

This concert marked the New York Philharmonic’s 17,000th concert and its first-ever performance of Louise Farrenc’s (nineteenth-century) Overture No.2. Santtu-Matias Rouvali shaped a robust, accomplished account of the French composer’s highly dramatic piece, topped off with an appropriately rousing ending.

In a Philharmonic debut, Bruce Liu delivered a glowing rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. His sparkling performance, distinguished by thrilling virtuosity, unpretentious refinement, and expressive fervor – expertly accompanied – was the evening’s highlight. The numerous sudden changes and technical challenges posed no difficulty for the pianist, who displayed graceful agility in the opening and a wonderfully light touch in the delicate passages and wistful long phrases of the early variations 2. Then, as the music became increasingly more demonic, and the piano writing more flamboyant, he dispatched the sections at exhilaratingly fast tempos with every note still audible. His playing was particularly impressive in the final variations, where he took on all the intricate patterns, frequent syncopation, and leaps with total assurance. The most moving moments came in variation XVIII, where he superbly rendered the achingly beautiful melody before the strings, sounding uncommonly glorious, entered and took it to a soaring emotional climax. There were two encores: an equally dazzling account of ‘La Campanella’, the third of Liszt’s six Grandes études de Paganini, and then something tender and more introspective, Alexander Siloti’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude in E-minor. 

Following intermission, Rouvali’s uneven interpretation of Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony, a meandering first movement, lacking in drama and tension, was followed by an apathetic slow movement. His more nuanced treatment of the lovely, waltz-like Scherzo was an improvement, as was his more dramatic and purposeful rendering of the Finale, but all told, this was a mixed, less than totally engaging performance with some instances of hazy ensemble and few appealing features.

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