Philharmonic wraps season with Bronfman’s bravura and Dicterow farewell

Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 11:48 am
Yefim Bronfman performed Beethoven concertos Tuesday night with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Yefim Bronfman performed Beethoven concertos Tuesday night with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

The New York Philharmonic is finishing their season with a program that showcases both their current artist-in-residence, Yefim Bronfman, and Glenn Dicterow, who is retiring after thirty-four years as the orchestra’s concertmaster.

This week’s program also concludes the Philharmonic’s two-week series of the Beethoven piano concertos, a jarringly conservative choice for an ensemble that has finished the previous four seasons with ambitious and spectacularly successful theatrical events. But the just-concluded inaugural Biennial exploration of contemporary music was expansive enough that one should probably cut the orchestra some slack.

Slack, unfortunately, was the dominant quality of the first half of the concert with Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with principal cellist Carter Brey joining Dicterow and Bronfman. The choice was perhaps sentimental, one last ensemble showcase for a consummate ensemble musician, and certainly was rewarded with extended heartfelt applause.

But this is not one of Beethoven’s masterpieces. The Triple Concerto gives each soloist a chance to speak, but little to say. Dicterow is a strong soloist, but came off here as second fiddle to Brey, who played with deep musicality. He conveyed the feeling that he found an inner meaning in the music that is invisible to many listeners, and almost managed to make a convincing argument for the work.

Concertmaster is a mysterious and ill-defined position, as both leader and part of the mass of strings. Dicterow has come to the fore many times with an expressive voice—the Philharmonic’s in-house record label has recently released a substantial and enjoyable three-disc set, “The Glenn Dicterow Collection,” offering solo appearances from 1982 to 2012.

Here, Dicterow played more as a member of a trio, though one that was unevenly balanced. While Dicterow aligned with Brey fluently, Bronfman tried to push through some passion and force via the disconnected piano part, but failed to pass that excitement along to the orchestra and conductor Alan Gilbert. The orchestral accompaniment was polite to a fault, and there was little of Beethoven’s harmonic and rhythmic power in the music.

As wan and superficial as the first half was, the second, with the “Emperor” concerto was much more involving and satisfying. Much of that was the result of Bronfman not having to share the spotlight. The pianist is one of those un-showy musicians who plays with musical rather than physical bravura: what comes through the clarity of his technique is thoughtfulness and musical expression.

Bronfman set the tone from the opening piano flourishes, playing with an Apollonian attention to articulation and rhythm. He valued every note in the piece for its inherent worth, and nothing was done for effect. Here the soloist was matched by lithe and energetic orchestral accompaniment.

The transparent ease of his playing in the passages that mix three against four was impressive, but most notable was his beautiful pianissimo playing—the quiet stretches in the long first movement were made powerful by the dramatic change in dynamics. Bronfman was utterly mesmerizing throughout the slow second movement, casting a spell over the audience and even, it seemed, members of the orchestra. In the quiet final bars, a first-stand violist was so lost in the music she dropped her bow (she and Bronfman made up during the bows).

The final movement danced and galloped along in the best Beethovenian fashion, orchestra and soloist spry, almost leaping through the music. From the double-time feel at the beginning of the coda, the music took on a new level of energy, meaning and forward motion. A touch of rhythmic sloppiness from the orchestra at the conclusion was a welcome error of commission: every concert should have this much enthusiasm, and it was a reminder of how this orchestra can bring new life to the classics.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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