Classical Source reviews thew opening night with the New York Philharmonic
“… György Kurtág’s …quasi una fantasia… was the first music played. Hungarian Kurtág (although born in Romania in 1926) began his music studies in Budapest. After the Hungarian revolt in 1956, he spent time in Paris, studying with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud. During his Paris sojourn, Kurtág suffered from severe depression, brought on by believing his ideals were unrealizable in a world so remote from them. But soon after discovering the music of Webern and the plays of Beckett, Kurtág found the courage to move past his emotional affliction and compose. … quasi una fantasia… (1988) for piano and various instrumental groups placed throughout the audience has an apparent titular reference to Beethoven’s pair of piano sonatas, Opus 27, one being the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. Consisting of four movements, the Kurtág is about nine minutes long, and attempts to merge audience and performers by placing the latter within the former. In this performance only Leif Ove Andsnes’s piano and the timpani shared the stage with Alan Gilbert, the rest of the instrumental groups were placed at the back of the hall, creating a front-rear stereophony. A slow, soft descending scale on the piano and evenly placed timpani beats set the stage for what is to come and reappear toward the end. The atmosphere is primeval and mystic. Out of nowhere the instrumental groups enter at a rapid pace with fragmented figures that create a nightmarish vision of chaos, a terrifying processional, like giants stalking the earth. The music softens to an imperceptible and elegiac hush before the piano’s opening stepwise figure returns, now played to simple wind tones, closing the work in a hauntingly serene atmosphere.
“There followed Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. Andsnes, in the process of recording Beethoven’s piano concertos, has often appeared with the NYP. He and Alan Gilbert work well together. Andsnes’s light touch, deft fluidity and unaffected reading fitted hand-in-glove with Gilbert’s approach … Although occasionally Andsnes applied force to left-hand chords, he did so only to reinforce a passage’s dramatic character. But he glided effortlessly through the rapid passagework in the first and last movements. Andsnes’s introspective manner came through in the way he subtly caressed a particular phrase, and in the Largo he elegantly conjured up a serene dream-like atmosphere, only disturbed toward the end by over-emphasis on each note of a rising stepwise sequence. His command was extraordinary.