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On 9 October 2004, pianist Daria Rabotkina (a native of Kazan, Russia and a pupil of Vladimir Feltsman at New York's Mannes College of Music) joined Tilson Thomas and the NWS to perform that perennial warhorse -- the Concerto No 1 in B flat minor Op 23 by Tchaikovsky. Rabotkina is a sensitive, interpretively adventurous artist. Her lovely tone and delicately sculptured phrasing in the second movement Andante semplice were magical! The movement had the dreamy, almost improvisatory aura of an arabesque. Rabotkina brought refreshing restraint and imaginative, often poetic musical shape to the thrice familiar Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso. She had the requisite virtuosity for the concluding Allegro con fuoco. Her Chopinesque touch brought elegance to the movement's lovely second subject. For all her artistry and pianistic command, Rabotkina too often failed to encompass the concerto's grand line. Her performance was often episodic and lacked the aristocratic sweep inherent in the music. (Rabotkina will be touring with Valery Gergiev and St Petersburg's Kirov Orchestra in March. Perhaps her Prokofiev -- the First Concerto -- will display her talents to better advantage at that time). Tilson Thomas brought lush, rhapsodic grandeur to the concerto's orchestral writing. His tempos were admirably unhurried -- allowing the music to soar with almost operatic passion. Aside from some frayed wind intonation, the orchestra played with rich, sonorous beauty.

Daria Rabotkina
Daria Rabotkina

The Tchaikovsky was preceded by a brilliant, dizzying performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No 9 in E flat Op 70. Yevgeny Mravinsky, who led the November 1945 première with the Leningrad Philharmonic, noted that the symphony was 'a work directed against philistinism ... an original "symphonic broadside" which ridicules complacency and bombast.' Beneath the music's seemingly joyous swagger lies a dark side. At times elements of tragedy and the grotesque seem to intrude upon the music. Tilson Thomas encompassed the score's ambivalent emotional context. A taut, furious pace and light, feathery string playing opened the satiric first movement Allegro. Tilson Thomas evoked the pensive, tragic tone of the Moderato -- so reminiscent of the slow movements in Shostakovich's wartime Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. The crystalline flute tones of Ebonee Thomas (a graduate of Southern Methodist University and Boston's New England Conservatory) commanded attention among fine, precise wind playing. Taken at a rapid clip, the sardonic humor of the Scherzo Presto made a splendid effect. The dramatic brass chords that introduce the Largo were at once frightening and sonorous. The movement is dominated by a long bassoon solo based upon Russian Orthodox chants and Jewish motifs -- a typical Shostakovich mix of ritual and klezmer. The rich tone and strong accents of Gabriel Beavers's solo bassoon were striking. Tilson Thomas found the sly wit of the concluding Allegretto. Orchestral timbres were bright and piercing. The concluding brass fanfare had tremendous impact. A crisp, rousing performance of a twentieth century classic!

Michael Tilson Thomas's fall residency with the New World Symphony found him at the height of his conducting powers. His music making was consistently imaginative and provocative. Tilson Thomas's collaboration with Christian Tetzlaff produced a Brahms Concerto performance of the legendary variety -- a great interpretation of a timeless masterpiece!

Copyright © 31 October 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA







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