Rotterdam Philharmonic/Lahav Shani at Kravis Center, West Palm Beach – Pärt & Prokofiev – Daniil Trifonov plays Mozart K271

Pärt
Swansong

Mozart
Piano Concerto No.9 in E-flat, K271 (Jeunehomme)

Prokofiev
Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 [selections – The Montagues and the Capulets; The Young Girl Juliet; A Scene; Dance; Masks; Romeo and Juliet (Balcony Scene); The Death of Tybalt; Dance of the Antillian Girls; Romeo and Juliet Before Parting; Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb]

Daniil Trifonov (piano)

Rotterdam Philharmonic
Lahav Shani


Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 4 March, 2024
Venue: Dreyfoos Concert Hall, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida

This was the second of four Florida concerts on the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s U.S. tour. With chief conductor Lahav Shani the curtain-raiser was Arvo Pärt’s Swansong, based on an earlier piece that he composed in 2000 to honor the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Premiered in 2014, it was revised in 2021 and begins with a swaying melody beautifully played on cor anglais by Ron Tijhuis, accompanied by Charlotte Sprenkels’s harp. The strings set an almost metronomic tempo throughout much of the piece, as the woodwinds and brass carry most of the melodic freight, with tubular bells chiming in repeatedly. The harmonies are simple and the mood persistently calm, even when a brass chorale builds to a climax halfway through the six-minute work. The harp returns above whispering strings as the music fades away, ending with a single soft stroke on the triangle.

Mozart’s E-flat Piano Concerto marks a major change not only in his mastery of this form but in his maturity as a composer. Daniil Trifonov gave a sparkling performance, engaging in delightful dialogue with the orchestra and showing off his brilliant virtuosity in the cadenzas that Mozart left for each of the three movements, the first of which began dramatically, but ended in a more lyrical mood that paved the way for the Andantino middle movement. Trifonov’s phrasing in that trill-laden middle movement was exquisite, and its cadenza was breathtakingly rendered. The Finale set off at a dazzling pace, reflecting the Presto marking, with Trifonov and Shani weaving their way through the fascinating series of variations on the Rondo theme, highlighted by the piano’s dialogues with pairs of oboes and horns and a dreamy cadenza.

Following intermission, Shani conducted his own selection from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. ‘The Montagues and the Capulets’ introduced the feuding families with strident beats of bass drum and timpani and powerful intonations by Hendrik-Jan Renes on tuba underpinning the familiar theme. ‘The Young Girl Juliet’ was a charming depiction of the heroine with fleeting violins and fine solos on flute, clarinet and cello. ‘Masks’ portrayed the ball at the Capulets with a bouncy theme interspersed with a delicate trumpet solo and a final word from Romke-Jan Wijmenga’s bass clarinet. Lush playing from the strings and whooping horns in the ‘Balcony Scene’ was followed by ‘The Death of Tybalt’ in which the racing strings depict the rapid swordplay of Romeo and Tybalt’s duel.  When Tybalt is slain, the drums pound away relentlessly as horns and trumpets cry out above the rest of the orchestra.The rather stately ‘Romeo and Juliet Before Parting’ featured excellent solos on clarinet and viola, and ‘Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb’ emphasized the story’s tragic ending, to which the audience responded with a long, respectful silence. There was an encore, Prokofiev’s March, Opus 99.

The performance showed off Shani’s affinity for this music and terrific rapport with the orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s youngest chief conductor, and having succeeded Zubin Mehta at the Israel Philharmonic, he’s been appointed chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic beginning in 2026.

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