Pianist makes terrific debut in Brahms with Miami Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Gilles Vonsattel made his Miami debut Friday night performing Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

Gilles Vonsattel made his Miami debut Friday night performing Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor is a massive score that requires virtuosity of the highest order. More than a few gifted pianists have come to grief attempting this titanic symphony for piano and orchestra but Gilles Vonsattel proved equal to the challenge on Friday night, when he was the solo protagonist with the Miami Symphony Orchestra at Gusman Concert Hall.

The Swiss-born winner of the 2002 Naumburg International Piano Competition, Vonsattel possesses a dazzling technique that can storm the heavens or sing in poetic introspection. He brought incendiary fire to the opening movement, leavened by interludes of tender repose. Vonsattel invested Brahms’ elongated paragraphs with deep expressive force rather than mere hollow display. He has power to spare but held it in reserve for climactic moments, assaying a subtle range of dynamics and tonal colors.

Vonsattel’s exquisite touch and sensitivity imbued the noble Adagio with elegiac lyricism and pensive tension. Approaching the Rondo finale at breakneck speed, Vonsattel’s playing was astounding in its transparency and agility, and his finely attuned sense of Brahms’ singing line soared through the score’s broad structure. An impressive artist and dynamic virtuoso, Vonsattel left an indelible mark in a terrific Miami debut.

Eduardo Marturet

Eduardo Marturet

Except for some wayward horns and frayed wind playing, Eduardo Marturet infused the orchestra with much of Brahms’ dark, searing passion. A perceptive accompanist, he never overpowered Vonsattel, adeptly bending the orchestra to the pianist’s phrasing.

The Miami Symphony has shown considerable improvement in recent seasons but the concluding performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique) was a step backward. In addition to the overheated angst of Marturet’s conception of Tchaikovsky’s swan song, orchestral discipline was shaky. At one point near the end of the first movement, the ensemble threatened to come apart completely.

The excellent strings seemed to be part of another orchestra, playing in a parallel universe. Their rich, glistening tone and musical precision was surrounded by harsh, unsteady brass and a wind section ridden by poor intonation, particularly the flutes. The strong bassoon and clarinet solos in the first movement could not compensate for much unreliable playing throughout the symphony.

Marturet was at his best in the two middle movements. The waltz emerged bright and virile, the march taut and properly stirring. The conductor’s slow tempo robbed the passionate finale of much of its tragic poignancy. Ultimately, this heavy-handed Pathetique failed to take flight.

The Miami Symphony repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach. 305-275-5666, www.themiso.org.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sat May 8, 2010
at 12:56 pm
No Comments