Bronfman, Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic in an Impressive Lindberg Premiere

United StatesUnited States  Dvořák, Magnus Lindberg, Tchaikovsky: Yefim Bronfman (piano), New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert (conductor), Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 5.5.2012 (BH)

Dvořák: Carnival, Op. 92 (1891)
Magnus Lindberg
: Piano Concerto No. 2 (2010-2012, World premiere)
: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1877-78)

Fresh from an exhilarating look at Mahler’s Sixth Symphony earlier in the week, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic unveiled Magnus Lindberg’s new piano concerto flanked with two more familiar faces—all expertly played at Avery Fisher Hall. Lindberg, who has been the orchestra’s Composer in Residence for the last three years, had Yefim Bronfman in mind from the start as soloist—a good call, judging from the pianist’s confidence on display.

The piano jumps in right away, rising above percussion rumblings and low strings. From the start, the soloist is given a hero’s assignment, and Bronfman was really working overtime. In interviews, Lindberg said he wanted to create a piece that absorbed the “complexity of pianistic history…into a personal language.” One of my first thoughts was “Stockhausen meets Gershwin’s Concerto in F.” The language veers back and forth from stark brutality to what might suffice for Romanticism—at least, in this composer’s universe. Broad swaths of notes waft through like giant storm clouds; there are a few calm moments, but even those seem charged with tension. (If Horowitz were alive today, he might be talking with the composer now about a third concerto.) Bronfman had very few moments of repose, his hands criss-crossing and darting from one end of the keyboard to the other. At the end, the response was gratifying, with hundreds standing for a huge ovation as Lindberg, Bronfman and Gilbert came out for bows. It’s been awhile since I’ve heard Bronfman, and rarely in contemporary music; it was a pleasure to see him so completely immersed in a new score.

The last time the orchestra played Dvořák’s Carnival was in May 2011 as an encore in Prague, and if it was anything like the fireworks here, the audience must have gone wild. Yes, it was a bit loud—and vivacious, as if shot out of a cannon—but with many prismatic details. And to close the evening, Gilbert and the ensemble detonated a carefully shaped Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony with visceral impact to spare. The majestic brass in the opening summoned up the same drama that informed the Mahler Sixth performance, with Gilbert clarifying details that can sometimes sound clotted. In the graceful second movement oboist Liang Wang was a marvel.

Before the third movement began, a coughing episode in the audience turned into an unconscionable tsunami—so much so that Gilbert lowered his hands, swiveled around and gave an amused look, as if to ask, “Really? I thought you all came to hear the music—may we finish it for you, please?” With offenders shamed, Gilbert got applause, and the orchestra rocketed into the pizzicato frenzy—sharply articulated—that gets one’s blood boiling for the finale. And in that finale, marked “con fuoco,” the musicians virtually set the room ablaze with some peerless playing, with hundreds of interior lines scurrying through to offset Tchaikovsky’s massive textures. It was great fun.

Bruce Hodges

This same program was performed in Los Angeles—Laurence Vittes reviewed it here.