Ehnes provides the highlight in Denève’s Prokofiev program with the Philharmonic

Fri Jan 26, 2018 at 1:41 pm
James Ehnes performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Stephane Deneve and the New York Philharmonic Thursday night.

James Ehnes performed Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Stepháne Denève and the New York Philharmonic Thursday night.

On Thursday evening, Stepháne Denève led the New York Philharmonic in an all-Sergei Prokofiev program at David Geffen Hall. The lineup included the Love for Three Oranges Suite, the First Violin Concerto and a selection of excerpts from Romeo and Juliet.

Conducting The Love for Three Oranges Suite without a score, Denève brought the performance to a galloping start with “Ridiculous Fellows.” The orchestra played with superb technical facility, though it wasn’t always clear what Denève’s impassioned podium histrionics added to the playing. Likewise, in the popular March from the Suite, the orchestra’s unity of articulation shone. “Flight” the finale, was as brisk and energetic as the preceding sections, though dynamic contrasts could have been more clearly controlled.

After a short pause, violinist James Ehnes emerged onto the stage amid enthusiastic cheers. With melodic phrases as long as those found in Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, maintaining a sense of the musical line can be challenging, but Ehnes’s mastery of the music was unassailable. The first movement’s brief flirtations with sixteenth-note solo figurations in the violin were played by the Canadian violinist with simplicity and finesse.

The second movement is a feat of dazzling technical virtuosity, and Ehnes’s flawless execution of the cascading passages was deeply impressive. The third movement brings the orchestral forces back into the fold, and there was memorable playing by the woodwinds, the clarinet in particular. As the music transitioned from incessant rapid arpeggiations to lyrical expanses with frequent double and triple stops, Ehnes’s violin’s tone remained luscious; the stratospheric high G’s were beautifully rendered, as the concerto ended on a peaceful coda. Ehnes offered an encore of the third movement from Bach’s Sonata No. 2, BWV 1003, a delightful contrast from the all-Russian program.

After intermission, Dèneve and the orchestra returned to stage to perform the French conductor’s own idiosyncratic bricolage of excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The orchestra played with the same precision with which they executed the first half of the concert.

The fortissimo climaxes in “Montagues and Capulets” were exciting and the brief saxophone moment in the “Dance of the Knights” was a delightful timbral shift. The French horns had some noticeable fracks there but their formidable presence in “The Death of Tybalt” did not disappoint. Of special note was also the melodious first bassoon solo in Friar Laurence, played brilliantly by Judith LeClair.

The performance ended with a hushed tone on “The Death of Juliet.” Denève held his baton high after the last notes faded out to silence.

The program will be repeated 2 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.

2 Responses to “Ehnes provides the highlight in Denève’s Prokofiev program with the Philharmonic”

  1. Posted Jan 27, 2018 at 12:37 am by DorothyT

    The first bassoon solo mentioned in the review was played by associate principal Kim Laskowski.

    This Prokofiev program was one of the finest I’ve heard played by the NY Philharmonic since I’ve been attending. What a difference a fine conductor makes in a hall that has its challenges. I attended the Friday matinee performance and sat near enough to see every nuance of gesture made by Deneve. I didn’t see his conducting as histrionic, as mentioned in this review, but necessary to bring out the clarity and dynamics of each section of the orchestra.

    Today, Geffen Hall was a fine canvas for the musicians, the soloist Ehnes, and Deneve. The conductor has a good ear for this hall.

  2. Posted Jan 28, 2018 at 7:17 pm by Kevin Price

    I also attended the Friday matinee which left me stunned,not only by the masterful beauty of the orchestra,but also by the musical marriage between the NYP players and conductor.This was topped off with the most ravishing,haunting concerto performance.A truly special experience which I will forever remember.

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