United States Various: Daniil Trifonov (piano), The Philadelphia Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor). Carnegie Hall, New York, 29.9.2022. (RP)
Ravel – La valse
Liszt – Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat major, S.124
Gabriella Lena Frank – ‘Chasqui’ from Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout
Dvořák – Symphony No.8, Op.88
Carnegie Hall opened the new season with a gala concert by The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Last season, when visiting orchestras were few and far between, Nézet-Séguin and the Fabulous Philadelphians were a constant presence at Carnegie Hall. The warmth of the reception that the audience gave them was undoubtedly partly in gratitude, but in equal measure in anticipation of a program that was designed to please – and it did.
The first work was Ravel’s La valse. Ravel composed it after World War I and could no longer evoke imperial Vienna and the swirling, graceful waltzes so identified with the city, as he had originally envisioned the work more than a decade earlier. Instead, he created a tone poem that is charged with energy and, at times, downright terrifying.
Nézet-Séguin led a performance of the Ravel that teetered between flashes of brilliant color with driving rhythms and moments when a melody would joyously bloom. One was almost breathless as the orchestra seemed to play ever faster with impressive precision and the ability to respond to Nézet-Séguin’s slightest change in tempo or volume.
Composed almost a century earlier, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1 has the same frenetic energy as the Ravel, as well as passages that are almost diabolical in their fierceness. A single theme runs through the entire concerto, to which the words ‘Das versteht Ihr alle nicht, haha!’ (‘None of you understand this, ha-ha!’) became attached – perhaps added by the composer, perhaps not.
Pianist Daniil Trifonov was the embodiment of a Romantic artist with flowing hair and open-collared shirt. At times he leapt off the piano bench as he dispatched the concerto’s formidable technical challenges with passion and virtuosity. It was just as exhilarating to watch him play the thundering octaves, intricate ornamentations and sweeping arpeggios.
In his encore, it was as if Trifonov sensed that the moment demanded something serene to cleanse and ease the mind after the Ravel and Liszt, and he played Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ in a transcription by English pianist Myra Hess. Trifonov’s playing of the well-known chorale tune above the triplets that accompany it was at times forceful and others reflective, but always pure and soothing.
Gabriella Lena Frank is currently composer-in-residence with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the recipient of numerous awards and commissions, as well as being included in The Washington Post’s 2017 list of the most significant women composers in history. Frank’s music reflects her experience as a multiracial Latina living in America. There is often a story behind her works, which are inspired by her studies of Latin American cultures and incorporate poetry, mythology and native musical styles that she fuses with traditional Western classical forms and techniques.
Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout was originally composed for string quartet in 2001, but Frank arranged it for string orchestra two years later. She drew inspiration from the term mestizaje, used to refer to a person of mixed European and Indigenous American ancestry as envisioned by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. ‘Chasqui’, the fourth of the piece’s seven movements, depicts a legendary figure from the Inca period, the chasqui runner, who sprinted great distances to deliver messages between towns separated from one another by the Andean peaks.
In her program note, Frank writes that the chasqui needed to travel light, and she captured that fleetness in five minutes of music that sparkled, popped and was lighter than air. Nézet-Séguin and the orchestra displayed their affection for and understanding of the music in a performance that was simple, delightful and fun.
The concert concluded with Nézet-Séguin leading the orchestra in a grand performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No.8. The fabled sound of the strings was on full display, from the rich, warm sound of the low strings in the first movement to the sweeping melodies for the entire section that course through the symphony. It is a work that showcased the orchestra’s soloists as well as entire sections playing en masse, and the Philadelphians did not disappoint.
The trumpet fanfare that announces the finale was bright and brilliant, equaled by the perfectly executed trills from the horns and flights of fancy from the flutes later in the movement. Nézet-Séguin and the orchestra let it rip, with the final notes of the symphony bringing the audience to its feet.