Friday, October 1, 2010

10/2 Harnoncourt/Lang, 1st Piano Cto, 7th Symphony (Sept 29 Review)

(Marouan DIB's "Opera Comic" of Harnoncourt/

(posting Sat's blog just a bit early today since this concert was this past Wed)

Nicholas Harnoncourt and Lang Lang performed Beethoven's 1st Piano Concerto and the 7th Symphony on Wednesday.  Originally I was a bit unenthusiastic since I had just seen both works performed in the last year (Opus 19 with Gilbert and the 7th with Fischer) but my wife convinced me and I had never been to Carnegie Hall before (also I like Harnoncourt - sometimes).  I'm really glad I went.  Basically the 7th Symphony was fantastic - the 1st Piano Concerto not as much.

Frankly I'm not a huge fan of Lang Lang.  I think he's a fine pianist but is he really one of the best in the world?  From a music education standpoint he is certainly to be applauded, but musically he seems a bit too mushy.  Maybe that's more appropriate for kids getting into classical but Kovacevich and Gulda are the ones who rocked my socks off.  Anyways, Lang seemed off-sync with the orchestra some of the time. There was a lot of pushing and pulling of rubato - in the first half of the 1st movement Harnoncourt tried to take it more "romantic" as if for Lang's sake, then he started to add some oomph.  Lang seemed a little bit left behind and sounded like an overly loaded caboose car on a fast moving locomotive. His 1st movement cadenza was good tho. I just don't like that B wrote that cadenza 10 years later, it doesn't quite fit with the rest of it but that's not Lang Lang's fault.  The 2nd movement was fine, and the 3rd was actually pretty good.  They went from the 2nd to the 3rd "attaca" - without a glance at each other.  Not bad but not quite outstanding.  However the Vienna Phil played magnificently.

Harnoncourt is 80. Watching him conduct you'd think he was 60. He was actually "catching air" in his sforzando leaps. His recordings of B's symphonies can be hit and miss for me but last night was hit for sure. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra played, but it was clearly a touring orchestra, maybe 60 players. Still - they rocked. All the members were playing full tilt - no lollygagging. My "home team" is the New York Philharmonic but I have to admit I enjoyed the VPO more than when I saw the NYP do Egmont this Spring in a huge church.  The allegretto movement was a bit faster than I was used to but instead of taking away any drama, it somehow added a kind of building, "inexorableness" to the tension.  The 4th movement finale was the definition of propulsive.  I didn't want it to end.  A really memorable performance.

Here's a New York Times review which I agree with wholeheartedly.

Here's a live Harnoncourt audio recording of the complete 5th Symphony - one of my favorite interpretations and MUCH faster than his official CD version.

Here's a fun video of Harnoncourt rehearsing the above piece...

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