A Magical Night in Central Park with the NY Phil
A gentle rain fell, delivering a welcome respite from the heat as maestro Alan Gilbert led the NY Philharmonic up from pianissimo to a velvety nocturne in Central Park last night. The big lawn in the middle of the park may not be the quietest place during the day, but the vast crowd was pretty much rapt as the lush beauty of the dawning movement of Respighi’s Fountains of Rome slowly unwound. Gilbert conducted it from memory: he had it in his fingers, and so did the orchestra. The magical moments were too numerous to count. As if on cue, the music diverted a couple of expected interruptions, the first when a plane crossed the sky just as the strings exploded with a bustling fury as Respighi’s suite reached morning rush hour: it isn’t often that an orchestra beats a jet engine, but this time it did. Then during a particularly incisive passage in Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which followed, a siren moving through the park added accidental harmonies which worked far more effectively, and interestingly, than one would have expected. The rest of the Fountains, from balletesque, to boomy, to practically silent, then stormy and and intense, then back again, was cinematic in the purest sense of the word, a tour of Rome a hundred years ago by a particularly insightful guide. As Gilbert led the orchestra on a blissful, silken glide out, it was transcendent, the kind of good-to-be-alive moment that can be savored in this city and this city alone.
The Pines were just as good, and made the fireworks display afterward seem redundant. From the swirling, Christmasy introduction, the richly misterioso outside-the-catacombs theme, artfully shifting motifs from the woodwinds leading the orchestra up and the final, lengthy crescendo (which begs the question, did Respighi know of Gustav Holst’s The Planets when he wrote this?), it was a triumphant conclusion to a sonic art-house double feature. The Philharmonic is playing both suites for their opening gala on September 27 at 7:30 PM: they couldn’t have chosen better. Avery Fisher Hall may need a new roof after they’re done.
What about Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which opened the bill? The audience responded somewhat restlessly, particularly toward the end of the second movement. If a piece drags, is it the fault of the orchestra? Hardly, if they play it as the composer dictated, which is exactly what they did. Gilbert set up the pyrotechnics of the finale so it could resound in the park’s lower valley by keeping the quieter parts especially low key: by the end, he was practically jumping out of his shoes in a storm of blazing minor-key riffage and so was the ensemble. But there were points where the melody lagged, and during the incessant pizzicato introduction to the third movement, didn’t leave much hope that there would be many more interesting things to come for those with the patience to wait through the 1877 equivalent of a song by Rush. The NY Phil is back in Central Park this coming Monday the 16th at 8 PM, program still TBA: as always, early arrival (six isn’t too early) is a must.
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