New York state of mind

By Lawrence A. Johnson


The New York Philharmonic’s final tour with music director Lorin Maazel would normally provide plenty of significance by itself. But the ensemble’s  appearance at the Adrienne Arsht Center Thursday night was freighted with more meaning as a possible harbinger of Miami’s future music scene as much as a farewell to the orchestra’s outgoing maestro.  

Originally part of the now-defunct Concert Association of Florida series, the event was presented under the auspices of the Arsht Center, in the wake of the former organization going bust. And while it’s likely too late for the Arsht Center to put together a series for next season, the large and enthusiastic crowd that turned out at the Knight Concert Hall Thursday night decisively proves that an audience still exists in Miami for a quality classical series of visiting orchestras and solo artists.  

Over his six-season reign as music director, Maazel has proven popular with the orchestra’s musicians and New York audiences, if not always with the local critics.  His farewell offering of populist showpieces was not exactly a vehicle for interpretive depth. What it did show—even with the Knight Hall’s settings sacrificing clarity for boomy resonance Thursday—is that Maazel is leaving the storied Philharmonic in terrific shape for his successor, Alan Gilbert.

Top to bottom, the orchestra remains an instrument of tensile, gleaming brilliance and turn-on-a-dime corporate virtuosity, from concertmaster Glenn Dicterow’s seamless solos to the personality-plus woodwinds, clarion trumpets, and dauntingly powerful trombones. When you walk out of a concert marveling at the quality of the viola section, you know you’re hearing a world-class orchestra.

Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture made a worthy calling card. Maazel’s rather unsmiling style missed out on some of the charm, but one could hardly wish for more whirlwind brilliance, with a dynamically nuanced English horn solo in Cellini’s central aria and blazing exuberance at the coda..

Maazel’s remarkable baton technique remains one of the seven wonders of the world, and the conductor was at his finest in Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3. A Maazel party piece from his earliest podium years, the suite’s piquant charm inhabits the graceful style of Tchaikovsky’s ballets with the not-too-dark introspection of the Elegia movement a close relative of the Winter Dreams symphony.

Maazel brought out the Suite’s lyric fantasy delightfully, culminating in a vividly characterized rendition of the Theme and Variations finale, the conductor underlining the Russian Orthodox coloring in the winds and bringing immense brassy swagger and impeccable balancing to the concluding Polacca.

If there’s not much even a sterling technician like Maazel one can do to make the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition revelatory at this point, the performance proved a fine display piece for the Philharmonic  musicians. A slipshod tuba solo made for a rather claw-footed ox in Bydlo, but otherwise Viktor Hartmann’s paintings were brought to vivid life with a mellifluous saxophone troubadour in The Old Castle, whirling strings in Tuileries and an evocative and atmospheric account of Catacombs. Throughout, Maazel brought out the Russian essence of the score with massive tone and rhythmic emphasis, the closing Great Gate of Kiev, broadly majestic and overwhelming in sonorous impact.

A bravura encore of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, and a thrilling Farandole from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite closed the evening in rousing style.

[Photo Credit: Chris Lee / New York Philharmonic.]

Posted in Performances

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Fri Feb 27, 2009
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