Rarely Played Tchaikovsky Caps a Puzzling Evening

United StatesUnited States Tcherepnin, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky: Gautier Capuçon (cello), New York Philharmonic, Andrey Boreyko (conductor), Avery Fisher Hall, New York City. 25.1.2014 (DS)

N. Tcherepnin: The Enchanted Kingdom, Op. 39
Shostakovich: Concerto No. 1 for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 107
Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3 in G major, Op. 55


Andrey Boreyko’s swimmingly agile conducting gestures were not quite enough to lead the New York Philharmonic through the magical waters of expression at this recent concert of Russian composers. In the opening work, Tcherepnin’s The Enchanted Kingdom, the conductor did not get the sparkle his light wand begged for. Perhaps the firebird in this story was stuck in the mud or lagged tiredly from a long cold Russian winter (something New Yorkers can identify with in this year’s rampant polar climate).

To follow, guest cellist Gautier Capuçon performed Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1. Here was a complete shift in mood, as one would expect in a piece written 50 years later—dramatic, reflective, and sometimes downright sorrowful. Yet as a young French performer, Capuçon seemed to approach the work with a more Existential influence and the occasional Deconstructivist strain, reading as a French consumer of philosophy and not necessarily incorporating the Russian culture, post-WWII atmosphere and “Shostakovich-ian” struggle, which one often hears in other versions.

At moments, I found this alluring. For example, Capuçon took the garish motifs (normally played with an aura of fear symbolizing the complex duress under which many lived in the Stalinist regime) and brought out a rubbery ugliness while de-emphasizing the fear—perhaps something only a third-generation individual can convincingly portray with such detachment. Occasionally however, he fell into standard romantic gestures not necessarily suited to this mid-20th century work, which left his brave new style ultimately unconvincing.

The New York Philharmonic generally did an exacting job of supporting their guest soloist, with the exception of the startling, imbalanced surprises from the brass section. But in the final work, Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 (played for the first time in New York Philharmonic history) the collective came together and brought out some of the playful cinematic moments of this “Tchaikovsky-lite” cousin to the great symphonies.

Daniele Sahr