Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New York Phil: Russian Fest!

Bramwell Tovey led a smashing concert last night with the NY Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. It was an all-Russian program: Tchaikovsky's Polonaise from Eugene Onegin and his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, and three pieces from Khachaturian's Gayane (including the Sabre Dance!).

Tovey led the orchestra with his usual deftness. I love watching his left hand; he was always doing something or other. Oftentimes, I thought he was painting a picture up there. He was a brilliant standup comic. He had the audience laughing between every piece. My favorite line of the night was as he was introducing the Romeo and Juliet. He was quickly telling the story and he said,

"And then Romeo did what many of us dream of doing: he killed one of his wife's relations in a bloody sword duel."

He attempted to tell the ending of the story without using the words "poison" or "dagger" or "suicide" so he said,

"And they [Romeo and Juliet] were both lying there on the slab and...well, it's all rather gory."

He was fantastic.

The orchestra, of course, sounded simply exquisite. It was all music that even an uneducated musician would know at one point or another. The Polonaise was sufficiently bouncy and exciting-- a perfect opener. I was shocked by the perfection of the balance between the sections. And the celli-- they rocked the house on this one.

The Rachmaninoff came next with Vladimir Feltsman on piano. He had such a unique touch on the piano; it was much springier than most renditions of Rachmaninoff. I really enjoyed it. Feltsman was absolutely outstanding. He was just sitting there, having a gay old time like he was hanging laundry instead of playing an infinitely difficult piano piece. He did all 25 minutes of music from memory (of course!) and he didn't miss a thing. The Variation XVIII was absolutely otherworldly. I thought I would float away, it was so beautiful. I could listen to that forever.

The Khachaturian was great. The second movement, the lullaby, was gorgeous. I'd never heard that part of Gayane before. They played the Sabre Dance at the perfect tempo. I thoroughly enjoyed this selection.

The Romeo and Juliet is beyond words. That piece is amazing to begin with (it's definitely in my top ten all-time favorite symphonic works) and to hear it played live was just amazing. I keep using the word "amazing" because I'm not sure there's another word to describe it. The music swept me away and the story of Romeo and Juliet became something more than it had ever been before. I heard things last night that I'd never heard before, even though I've listened to that piece a hundred times. The opening was so pious; I could almost see the church. The sword duel was exciting and the love theme swept through the room with a passion that can only be born from live music. I heard Romeo's heartbeat ebb away. It was all truly fantastic--beyond words.

I love Tchaikovsky.

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