Tuesday 16 December 2014

Martin Helmchen Giving His Debut with New York Philharmonic

We are happy to share a review from the New York Times about Martin Helmchen's debut performance with New York Philharmonic, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi. The performance of Dvorak's works was held last Thursday, December 11th at Avery Fisher Hall, New York City.

Call it “Demi-Dohnanyi/Dvorak.” After missing the first week of the New York Philharmonic mini-festival named for him, the eminent conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi, evidently recovered from the flu, made it to Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday for the series’s second and final program.

What was supposed to have been an immersion in a single maestro was instead a study in contrasts. The stand-in last week, Krzysztof Urbanski, music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, is 32 and athletic on the podium. Mr. Dohnanyi is 85, his presence calm and collected, his gestures (seen on Saturday evening) restrained.

His interpretation of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, “From the New World,” was calm and collected, too. Full of individual marks, from the daringly drawn-out pause that followed the subdued opening statement to the wistful elongation of a note in a violin melody, this was steady, secure, sometimes stolid playing. Brass fanfares were emphasized in a way that made the work seem more stentorian than the norm.

Atmosphere was conjured, nowhere more so than at the start of the Largo, when the strings made a hazy, vibrating halo around the classic English horn melody. But details were highlighted at the expense of structural logic, and this ruthlessly forward-moving work meandered.

Programmed by the New York Philharmonic for the third time in three seasons, the Ninth (1893) still clearly packs them in, but the novelty here was Dvorak’s Piano Concerto in G minor (1876), redolent of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Liszt. While it was done in Avery Fisher Hall as recently as June, with Garrick Ohlsson and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Philharmonic hadn’t performed it since 1986.

Beyond attracting an audience, it makes sense to play this concerto — with its premonitions of the Ninth’s declarative rhythms and its aching slow melody, like a germinal “New World” Largo — opposite this evergreen symphony. Mr. Dohnanyi’s control was such that in the first movement, the orchestra executed a sudden diminuendo more unified and yet also more subtle than its usual.

He led a performance so streamlined and lithe that it exposed some wiry strings and thin brasses. But this conception was perfectly tailored to the lucid heat of the rising pianist Martin Helmchen, making an impressive Philharmonic debut with these performances.

Mr. Helmchen has a noble bearing and a noble sound, shaping lines as elegant and clean as a Greek temple’s. While Dvorak’s concerto is notorious for the discomfort it induces in its soloists, he never seemed to break a sweat, unleashing chromatic runs and laying down octaves with a style that was technically assured but also sly and nuanced, passing in and out of the orchestral textures. If Mr. Dohnanyi kept the emotional temperature rather cool throughout the concert, Mr. Helmchen provided ample sparks.

Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, December 14, 2014

© Chriss Lee Photo/ 2014

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