A second bite at a New York Philharmonic concert

James JollyTue 6th April 2010
"Passion & Pain" - Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Phil"Passion & Pain" - Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Phil

Alan Gilbert and his band at home

Back in February I blogged about a concert that the New York Phil gave at the Barbican at the end of their European tour: I caught the second of their two concerts and it won me over on the programming alone (Haydn Symphony No 49, John Adams’s The Wound-Dresser, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, Op 6. I – and by my reckoning most the audience – thoroughly enjoyed it; the critics were somewhat cool! Well, on my weekly sweep through eMusic’s newly ripped music I was surprised (and delighted) to see that the concert was recorded back home in New York and there it is under the slightly (in the circumstances) ironic title “Passion & Pain” (it requires ten credits from a monthly allowance – £9.99 buys you 24 credits). So time for a second bite of that particular cherry. (It’s also available from iTunes for £7.99.)

First comment is that the harpsichord is way more noticeable in the Haydn on the recording than I recall in the concert (I’m still not convinced at the need for one especially as it does very little, but at least you register its presence). The performance – and once again it’s worth pointing out that this is minor-key Haydn – is elegant, subtle but certainly not demonstrative playing. I enjoyed it – and I enjoyed, even more, the juxtaposition of the Adams, after a little snatch of applause. Lovely solo violin playing though for my taste it’s balanced a bit too far forward of the voice here. Thomas Hampson – heard and not seen (I've always found his stage manner rather narcissistic) – strikes a perfect note of desolation, tenderness and suppressed anger at this pointless waste of life. 

The Schubert, dark and tragic, sounds even better than I recall – without the energy-draining tour behind them the NYPO play with a dark intensity that brings this work to the very brink of desolation, but the beauty remains. And to close, the Berg which was a real ear-opener at the Barbican: many people I suspect had never heard it before and were probably a little nervous. But Gilbert and the orchestra aligned it closer to the language of Mahler, giving it a warmth that merely added to its power. I remain grateful that such an imaginative programme was offered by a visiting orchestra – playing safe or playing flashy begins to pall. This offered terrific hope for the future and focused attention on a partnership that will be well worth listening out for.

(I see that you can also download, with same forces, live concerts of Mahler’s Third Symphony, a New Year’s Eve gala of Copland, Cole Porter and Gershwin, and a programme of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto (with Yefim Bronfman) and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony: both at eMusic and from iTunes.)

 

James Jolly

James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. His blogs explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.

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