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Concert Review: When Invisible Pirates Attack

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Mozart and Ravel at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Concert Review: When Invisible Pirates Attack

Pianist Danil Trifonov (center) plays Mozart with conductor Vladimir Jurowski (upper right)
and members of the New York Philharmonic. Photo by Chris Lee © 2016 The New York Philharmonic.

The conductor Vladimir  Jurowski is the music director of the London Philharmonic and an occasional visitor at the Met, where he is called on to untangle knotty operas like Richard Strauss' Die Frau Ohne Schatten. This week at the New York Philharmonic, he faced a program requiring precision in all of its aspects, from the arch accompaniment written in the Mozart Concerto No. 25 to the vast mythic landscapes of the Ravel ballet Daphnis et Chlöe, itself that composer's most ambitious work and a miracle of orchestration written on a grand and encompassing scale.
For the Mozart, the soloist was Daniil Trifonov, himself a young Russian artist and a pianist who has risen quickly in the ranks of formidable wizards of the Steinway. Mr. Trifonov is still young and slight of build, although a handsome Will Riker beard lends some authority and softens his presence. He still hunches over the keys, teasing voluminous waterfalls of notes from his fingers and using those long and elegant fingers to bring forth some of Mozart's most profound concerto writing.
His entry in the first movement was a thrilling moment, capped only by the delivery of the artist's own cadenza, itself a playful romp down the keys with hints of Tchaikovsky and a surprising excursion into chromatic territory. However, the pianist steered his great black ship clear of this Wagnerian whirlpool and returned to the bright C Major of the first movement, as Mr. Jurowski supplied sturdy rhythmic accompaniment.
The slow second movement offered opportunity for poetic expression from Mr. Trifonov, who seemed to mine some of the same dreamy territory as last year's festival of major Rachmaninoff works. The high-speed Rondo allowed this soloist to display blazing and yet precise speed, as the theme dropped hints of Mozart's opera Idomeneo, the entirety racing to a brilliant and thrilling close. A graceful Prokofiev encore was added to please the pianist's growing fanbase.
A few of those fans left for the second half. That was their loss as these were the first Philharmonic performances of Daphnis in its complete form with the addition of a mixed chorus from the Manhattan School of Music. This huge ballet score calls for an expanded orchestra with prominent parts for divided violins, doubled and supplanted woodwinds and a brass section worth their salt. It is also full of elaborate writing for a percussion section supplemented by wind machine and celesta, used to evoke the intervention of divine powers in the story of a Greek shepherd and his lady-love.
From the eerie first chords, Mr. Jurowski drew the listener into the mythic world of Ancient Greece and the opening pastorale. If the dances were ever clumsy (and there is one written for a grotesque cowherd that qualifies as such) it was only with intent, as the precise notations written on the printed page were executed with the skill of a trained terpsichore. The chorus too added to the mystic atmosphere, their wordless chords swelling over the orchestration in a wave of lush, fluid sound.
Conductor and orchestra delved boldly into the central section of the score, an attack by pirates that explodes in a volley of percussion and brass. Order was restored as the god Pan intervened on behalf of the young lovers, and the orchestra accompanied a lovely and invisible pas de deux. The music built and built in momentum, with the conductor leading the final bacchanale with bold strokes of his baton and ever-more-rapid flips of his printed score. The final chords were simply thunderous as love had fuinally truumphed over piracy.

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