New York Philharmonic/Gilbert, Avery Fisher Hall, New York – review

Symphonic premieres cannot be particularly plentiful these days. But when they happen, they usually make news. Second performances, on the other hand, are relatively rare luxuries. When ventured, they attract only modest attention.

Alan Gilbert, a maestro who plays by his own rules, apparently doesn’t care. Last week he programmed two significant repetitions at Lincoln Center. He began with Christopher Rouse’s Rapture, a clangorous yet orderly quasi-overture introduced in 2008 (David Robertson served as podium guest at the time). Next came the rambling rumbles of Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No 2, first heard in 2012. Noble intentions aside, familiarity did not invariably breed contentment.

Rouse’s deftly crafted exercise is, according to his annotation, “unabashedly tonal” and an ode of sorts to “spiritual bliss”. One person’s bliss, unfortunately, may be another’s ennui. Brassy here, percussive there, sporadically dissonant and predictably climactic, the 14-minute opus resembles a network of convoluted fanfares. At best, it makes a nice noise.

Lindberg’s keyboard extravaganza suggests a crass dynamic orgy, a moto perpetuo for a pianist of unflagging power and dexterity. Two years ago, the concerto impressed as a brutal-bravado showpiece for Yefim Bronfman, who almost made sense of its endless thump-and-crunch detours. This time the music seemed less ferocious, more reflective of light and shade. One wonders whether the difference lay in Bronfman’s hands or in the listener’s ears.

As if to reward the faithful for enduring, even cheering, two reasonably modern challenges, Gilbert returned after the interval with a hum-along speciality, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony (he last explored its passionate excesses on tour in July). On this occasion he kept the orchestral impulses relentlessly bold, tough and, above all, speedy. In the process he stressed extrovert heroism and slighted introspective nuance. Although he sometimes blurred the line that separates rhapsody from vulgarity, his ardour remained infectious. And, apart from some problematic horn entries, his players sustained unflagging clarity and expressive intensity. In context, the ultimate cadence crashed mightily, above and beyond the whomping norm.

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