Concettina Died and Other Stories of the East Side

Rush Hour at the NY Phil, posted April 1, 2009 at 11:06 PM

I was given a pair of great seats for a rush hour concert at the New York Philharmonic tonight. Rush hour concerts are short performances which start at 6:45pm so that crusty Connecticuters can make it back to their suburban blankness before the witching hour or something. Anyway, I've never been to one because I actually have to leave work early to make a 6:45 curtain.

So I left work early tonight, met Mark Fox at Avery Fisher Hall, and enjoyed a quick and very accessible concert of Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Charles Dutoit was conducting.

Dumbarton Oaks is a lovely chamber piece that is related--by inspiration--to Bach's Brandenberg Concerto No. 3. The small ensemble gave a lovely reading of it tonight. There are wonderful moments where the violins and clarinet are doing call and response which had exactly the right light tough. The acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall, of course, are a bit muddy, and it certainly isn't a good place to hear chamber music--the strings were bleeding into one another and the balance of the french horn and bassoon was like two guests at a party talking at once. Nonetheless, it was extremely enjoyable to hear it well-played.

The Tchaikovsky #5 is one of those pieces that makes some snobs hate Tchaikovsky. It can be schmalzy, and it's a bit all over the place, and it's certainly not difficult listening hour. But I like this work because it has a common musical motif running through the whole thing that keeps its patchwork quality all sewn together. And hell, who can resist the big sweeping melodies of ol' Peter T.? The second movement is a long and winding road, and the melody--Mark Fox pointed out afterward--simply must be the basis for John Denver's Annie's Song. You can actually sing a few lines at the end of the chorus almost identically: "You fill up my senses.... Come fill me again....". (I mean, it's not the whole song note-for-note the way Von Suppé's Poet and Peasant Overture has a cello solo that sings the whole of "I've Been Working on The Railroad...", but I digress). The piece has a great coda ending where the brass chuff out a rousing melody while the strings punctuate the phrases with increasingly intense zings. It's a rousing finish that had the audience bravoing before the last chord had entirely faded away. Good fun!

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