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Review: Buchbinder is Sparkling in Brahms with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie

By Jose Andrade, Contributing Writer, March 2, 2017

On the second evening of the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall (February 25), Maestro Franz Welser-Möst presented Johannes Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and Bela Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin. Joined by the incomparable Rudolf Buchbinder at the piano, this concert while shorter in length than the first evening, was equally enthralling and far more heavy-hitting.

Johannes Brahms’s First Piano concerto is a true beast in the concert repertory: neither a symphony nor a strict piano concerto, requiring similar temperaments from orchestra and soloist to make it successful, and for Mr. Buchbinder and the Vienna Philharmonic, they both worked fantastically together. Maestro Welser-Möst carefully established a calm tempest continually brewing and fomenting, eventually falling away into the piano which mirrored his orchestral counterpart. Buchbinder was most effective in the more quiet moments in the first movement, his playing both sparkling and understated at the same time. His low-key personality shifted into high-gear for the movement’s sizzling finale that was savagely hypnotic. An elegant opening for the second movement gave way to a mournful theme with orchestra, which was also soothing. Buchbinder built tension with the orchestra when appropriate, but also paired well with them in this movement when the writing required a more synthetic sound. A beautifully layered third movement concluded the concerto. For an encore, Mr. Buchbinder played a brilliant concert fantasy of themes from Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.

An ambiguous opening to Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony soon gave way to a forceful delivery of its primary theme material. Welser-Möst was far more emphatic here than in the Brahms, communicating excellent sforzandos in decisive moments. Welser-Möst carried the mournful element of fate from the first movement into the second, final movement, but strongly contrasted this theme with the natural beauty of the world. A subdued, conciliatory conclusion highlighted Schubert’s most beautiful sonorities.

Bartok’s mad opening to his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin resembles a windmill gone insane, amongst a furious storm with swarms of bees and birds. Welser-Möst kept the piece quick and compact, occasionally backing off the driven tempi, and highlighting Bartok’s wonderfully exotic tonalities that made the strings cry and scream melodies deliberately out of key with the rest of the orchestra. Spectacular solos from the woodwinds, trombonist and cello helped bring levity to this most maniacal ballet.

As with the first evening, The Vienna Philharmonic obliged the audience with an encore, this time from Josef Strauss (Johann Strauss’s brother), the “Frauenherz” polka-mazurka, a most tender depiction of the heart of women, a most soothing salve after the nihilistic fury of Bartok.

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Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in concert at Carnegie Hall on February 25, 2017. Franz Welser-Möst, Conductor; Rudolf Buchbinder, piano.

BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”
BARTÓK The Miraculous Mandarin Suite

CZIFFRA Concert Paraphrase on Themes from Die Fledermaus (after Johann Strauss II)
JOSEF STRAUSS “Frauenherz”: Polka-Mazurka, Op. 166


Cover: Rudolf Buchbinder at the piano, with Welser-Möst conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; photo: Chris Lee.


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