Spectacular concert to start Gianandrea Noseda’s era with the Philharmonia Zurich

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Brahms, Dvořák: Daniil Trifonov (piano), Philharmonia Zurich / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor). Zurich Opera House, 30.10.2021. (JR)

Gianandrea Noseda conducts the Philharmonia Zurich (c) Andrin Fretz

Brahms – Piano Concerto No.1 Op.15
Dvořák – Symphony No.8 Op.88

New General Music Director Gianandrea Noseda has commenced his tenure at Zurich Opera with Trovatore (click here). His orchestral series with the Philharmonia Zurich, the opera house orchestra, started – spectacularly – with this concert, Brahms’s First Piano Concerto and Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony (next spring he will tackle the Seventh). This concert proved that Noseda is equally at home and superbly proficient in the opera pit as well as on the symphonic stage.

I had not seen Daniil Trifonov in the flesh, but had heard a great deal about him. He ambled rather forlornly and without visible emotion onto the stage, hardly looked at the audience, gave no smile, and then stared either at the ceiling or at the floor as he waited for his entrance on the keyboard. As soon as he started to play, we knew we were in for something extraordinary. Here was not just a good pianist; here was a great one. The piano was placed well into the auditorium, and it helped that it felt as though we were hearing it in our living room.

Brahms’s First Piano Concerto has passages of passion and introspection. The shifts in mood, where dramatic and fiery outbursts alternate with tender lyricism, were breath-taking. Cross-handed passages were captivating. The Adagio was a mite slow for my liking, but impeccably played, Trifonov caressing each phrase. The thrilling Finale showed off Trifonov’s astounding technique at speed and brought a rousing reception. To bring us down to Earth, a serene and reflective piece of Bach in the style of Glenn Gould, crisp and academic.

I will now search out Trifonov’s new CD ‘Bach: The Art of Life’ but there is also another CD that comes highly recommended, ‘Silver Age’ with Trifonov playing Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Scriabin under Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. This  also sounds most tempting.

Trifonov appeared to have stolen the show, and Noseda’s limelight, but the best was yet to come.

Gianandrea Noseda (c) Andrin Fretz

Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony balances sunshine and darkness, characteristic of much Czech music. This performance was beautifully paced and phrased, and all the players of the Philharmonia Zurich (the orchestra of Zurich Opera House) covered themselves in glory. The woodwind were a special delight, opening the first movement with their birdcalls. All eyes were next on the mellow cello section, in particular principal Lev Sivkov. Noseda soon whipped the orchestra into a frenzy and showed us the greatness of this work, unjustifiably much less often played than the Seventh or Ninth. It is not a mere sweetmeat sandwiched between the other works. In the languid slow movement, Concertmaster Bartlomiej Niziol more than proved his mettle. Graceful elegance was in abundance for the Allegretto grazioso, Noseda swaying balletically and bringing the delightful movement to its playful close. The crisp trumpet fanfare announced the final movement, and after a calm before the storm, the orchestra erupted into the work’s fast and furious Coda. It was thrilling and exhilarating. (One small quibble: I would prefer the timpani placed more forward – at the very back of the stage, the sound disappears.)

Noseda, tall and elegant, alternates between grimace (looking quite demonic at times, appropriately for Halloween) and broad smiles when the music relaxes. At the end, smiles all round told us that the orchestra were in awe of their new music director and Noseda also knew he had an orchestra of the first rank at his command. Noseda, known for his strength in Italian opera, is also a dab hand in non-Italian symphonic music; this augurs well for his forthcoming Ring cycle.

Microphones were in evidence, so it is be hoped that a recording of both works will surface at some stage. I will be a buyer.

John Rhodes

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