Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rachmaninoff, Chaikovskii, Auerbach at Kennedy Center

Denis Matsuev has some serious ideas about Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. He sees it not as the Second Symphony with piano accompaniment, but rather as a Prelude of massive size with orchestral connective tissue. He sees it as a work of sometimes unbearable momentum, and at other times of heart rending stillness. And he has the technique to back up these ideas--a hugely satisfying use-your-paw-to-press-the-note-down-as-far-as-it-goes sound that cuts through the orchestra like there's a whole "piano" section, exceeded only by a beguiling sensitivity that unabashedly steals your heart.

In short, after taking a lot of heat for schmaltzing up the Concertgebouw's program on Monday, I think its safe to say that Rachmaninoff has redeemed himself in DC's eyes.

The NSO, under the direction of James Gaffigan (any relation to this guy?) played with delicacy and distinction in many moments. But at other times, they seemed to turn Matsuev's crisp, driving sets into gluey, halting picks (volleyball metaphor FTW!). Not that its easy to maintain momentum over those expansive themes, but one wonders at what could be achieved with an orchestra matching the brilliant agility Matsuev was serving up.

Matsuev responded to ecstatic applause with this showpiece, providing me with cheesy encore #2 for the week. I mean, it's his right and all, but after being so blown away by his Rachmaninoff I was really jonesing for some more information about what he could do with, you know, teh serious music.

The opener was a fascinating piece called "Requiem for Icarus" by Lera Auerbach. There were passages that came off a bit clumsily in the NSO's hands, but the overall impression was searing and direct, particularly the chilling final section.

After the half was Chaikovskii (love that bad-ass spelling) #4. Quibbles in the first half be damned, this was an exquisitely executed performance from the NSO. The allegro was played with glorious, tense precision, giving way to a second movement of disarming simplicity of expression. I don't know what to say about that plucked business in the scherzo, but the finale was an all cylinder tour de force. Gaffigan has a keen sense of phrasing that feels at once driving and deeply intuitive.


CAC-NYC said...

More proof that the coolest people are into classical music. I just found out that Jason Bateman is 'obsessed' with classical.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonathan,

I thought your readers would be interested in an upcoming concert at New York's Carnegie Hall. On April 8th, rising opera star Liam Bonner and Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic will perform a New York premiere of Jacob Druckman’s “Demos” (1992).

The program of contemporary and Post-Romantic masterworks will also feature Mahler's "Lieder eines Farhrende Gesellen” and will close with Stravinsky's vibrant and fanciful "Petrouchka."
 Maestro Ronald Zollman will lead Bonner and the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic, the flagship ensemble of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Music, in concert.

Opera News heralded Bonner, a Carnegie Mellon School of Music alumnus, for his "rich, versatile voice" and "beautiful instrument." The Washington Times said the rising baritone possesses a "deft comic touch backed by a hefty, well-supported instrument that would make for a wonderful Figaro."

Bonner recently made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Morales in "Carmen" and will join the company for its production of "Hamlet." He will make his role and company debut as Dottore Malatesta in "Don Pasquale" with Opera New Jersey.

In the 2008-09 season, Bonner made his European operatic debut as Guglielmo in "Così fan tutte" at English National Opera, returned to Houston Grand Opera for Claudio in "Béatrice et Bénédict" and Demetrius in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and appeared in a gala concert with L'Opéra de Québec.

Feel free to contact me at You can also visit


Sara M. Harenchar
Carnegie Mellon University
College of Fine Arts
Media Relations

Additional Information:

The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic is comprised of student musicians from across the United States and 19 foreign countries. Philharmonic performances have been received enthusiastically by audiences and critics at such prestigious institutions as New York City's Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Boston's Symphony Hall and Severance Hall in Cleveland. Its recordings appear on the Mode Records, New World Records, New Albion and Carnegie Mellon record labels. The orchestra has alumni in the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony, among many others.

Anonymous said...

I miss you guys.
Are either of you still in NYC?
What other opera blogs do you recommend that cover MET productions?

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