Boreyko draws out a precise and refined Romanticism with Philharmonic

Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 11:24 am
Andrey Boreyko conducted the New York Philharmonic Thursday night

Andrey Boreyko conducted the New York Philharmonic Thursday night.

Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko, who made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2007 and has since returned several times, began a two-week residency Thursday night with the Romantic fare for which he is most celebrated. This week’s program consists of Stravinsky, Mozart, and Zemlinsky, and Boreyko will round out next week with Tcherepnin, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky.

Stravinsky’s Chant du rossignol: Poème symphonique is a fascinating, if under-performed work. The Song of the Nightingale is derived from his opera Le Rossignol, which was begun in 1908, shortly before he was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev to write his ballet The Firebird. He set the opera aside at that time, and didn’t continue work on it until several years later. However, at this point, it was with a different compositional language all together. This symphonic poem is based on the more stylistically homogenous second and third acts of the opera.

The work is exceedingly evocative, perpetually so, hearkening to distinct events and atmospheres and staging, even though the listener is almost certainly unaware of what the exact evocation is at any given moment. The music is also often fragmented and recitative-like, with small chamber groups and numerous solos called upon from the orchestra. The result is a work that’s difficult to grasp, but Boreyko handled it with care and precision of thought.

Boreyko excels at big-picture conducting. Over the machinelike exactness and carefully maintained phrasing and dynamics, was an overarching line that left no room for gratuitous phrasing. Throughout the work, Boreyko kept the musicians at bay, frequently motioning for them to play less, with simple, unadorned gestures showing he was not willing to over-Romanticize the work. There were moments that were utterly serene, with wispy strings, punctuated by sharp outbursts. Of particular note were two gorgeous trumpet solos that Boreyko allowed to simply sound.

In a simplified viewing, Boreyko seemed to be constantly holding back, never allowing the music to get too outspoken, even in the sharp interjections and fuller sections. From a different viewpoint, his thought process was exceedingly clear, as the colors and subtleties of the orchestration were able to distinctly pop.

It became even more apparent during Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Little Mermaid) that Boreyko is, in fact, a conductor with clear purpose and masterful leardership skills. Around 40 minutes in length, the Zemlinsky could easily turn into a seasick wash from sheer Romanticism and repetition of ideas.

However, Boreyko consistently kept the orchestra from getting too indulgent. In fact, Boreyko’s control of the musicians and his length of vision was such that there were only a few true climaxes where he opened up and allowed the sound to wholly flourish. And how thrilling those few moments were after such lengthy build-ups.

Judith LeClair

Judith LeClair

Judith LeClair filled in the middle of the program with Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto. LeClair, principal bassoon of the Philharmonic, has performed the Mozart several times with the orchestra, most recently in 2000. A seasoned player, she added a new element to this performance with her own new cadenza. Technically and musically strong, she filled out over the orchestra with a rich sound that was always melodic, even in the sections of fast passagework. The second movement was especially beautiful, as Boreyko led the musicians in unified breath and grace and let LeClair float effortlessly above.

The program will be repeated 11 a.m. Friday, and 8 p.m. Saturday.

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