RPO/Gatti in New York (15 & 18 February)

15 February

Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (Classical)
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

18 February

Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.83
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Daniele Gatti

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 February, 2004
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

In this first of a two-concert series here in New York, Daniele Gatti and the Royal Philharmonic gave vigorous if less than awe-inspiring readings of three foolproof standbys. The program opened with an exhilarating account of Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, with Gatti taking most of the tempo indications on the fast side. The Allegro had the rhythmic crispness one expects in a classical piece, and the Gavotte was appropriately perky, but the slow movement seemed somewhat lacking in genuine gentleness and warmth. The wonderfully high-spirited finale came off best.

In Mozart’s Symphony No.40, Gatti’s gestures were flowing and demonstrative, which brought forth a performance with the same energy and drive that characterised the Prokofiev. Interpretatively, Gatti favored brisk, zesty tempos and strongly accented lines, but the other side of the spectrum was represented as well. The orchestra members played with a serene beauty in the Andante. Overall, however, this was a big, fast reading, with the horns in the final movement rarely sounding as present as they did elsewhere in this performance.

The program ended with an energetic, occasionally exciting but not altogether satisfactory performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5. Gatti took a highly charged approach to the first movement, coaxing impressive rubato from the strings at its height. The second movement was characterised by great dramatic extremes, the most noticeable drawback being the unsteadiness of the solo horn. Speeds for the final two movements were rather frenetic. The waltz movement seemed especially ill-fitting, but the orchestra generated great bustle in an exhilaratingly fast finale.

On February 18 the RPO presented two more war-horses of the standard repertory, this time by Brahms. The program opened with his sumptuous Second Piano Concerto. With Gatti and the RPO providing excellent support, pianist Garrick Ohlsson took the lead. Adopting a wide dynamic range and displaying a splendid combination of the powerful and the poetic, Ohlsson delivered a moving and convincing account of this demanding work. When the Andante was reached, Gatti and the orchestra were momentarily the center of attention, starting with the remarkable extended solo delivered by the cello, but, overall, Ohlsson dominated this performance.In the second half, Gatti led a performance of the Brahms First Symphony that was at times riveting but mostly exasperating. He seemed to be striving for a weighty gravity with bold manipulations of tempo, focusing attention on inner details and textures, but he often seemed at odds with the RPO players. When Gatti tried to shape the phrasing of passages and solo themes, the players responded with an unwelcome hardness and rigidity. Overall, this was a less than polished performance, with very few moments of bravura, one being the solo violin passage in the Andante.

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