Thanksgiving came a day early at the New York Philharmonic this year: the calories, the juicy fat, the whipped cream, the fun, the feeling of endless abundance. The orchestra’s program at David Geffen Hall on Wednesday was an immersion in richness and in flashy, warming colors, and it left you as a good Christmas dinner does: a little dazed, even merrily sleepy, stumbling towards the subway that is really full is.
Conducted by Stéphane Denève, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, the concerto was très French – played through the tender Rameau encore by the pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, who made his Philharmonic debut as soloist in Ravel’s Concerto in G. (The program is repeated on Friday and Saturday.)
Central to that concert is a time-suspending Adagio. But in Ólafsson’s performance, the dreaminess – the light haze, the delicacy – also continued in the two outer movements. Some pianists lean on the regularity of the factory machine, the clear clarity of those parts to hammer in a contrast to the slow part. But, as he also showed in a very different repertoire at his Carnegie Hall debut in February, Ólafsson resists stark contrasts.
It’s not that his touch is diffuse; it is as clean as marble. And it’s not like the tempos he and Denève chose for the framing movements were slower than usual. But the effect Ólafsson got throughout, of a sort of virtuoso restraint, can be described in the same words I used for his performance in February: a “side of sound, inward and wistful in both major and minor keys, both in andante and allegro.”
“Céléphaïs” (2017), a nine-minute excerpt from Guillaume Connesson’s symphonic poem, inspired by the fantastical writings of HP Lovecraft, opened the concert with an extravagance that proves the persistence of the orchestral panache of the French tradition: its lurid opulence and cunning twists, brassy explosions and sensual strings.
Connesson’s forerunners in that tradition received a hearing after the intermission. The audience even got a second helping: the large, sweet slice of cake, Suite No. 2 from Albert Roussel’s 1930 ballet “Bacchus et Ariane”, was followed by another slice, Suite No. 2 from another mythological ballet by the early 20th century, Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé.”
On paper, this seemed overindulgence; It kind of was, but who doesn’t like two sides of their potatoes now and then? And while there is a familial resemblance between these works, Roussel’s style is slightly more angular, with an underlying sense of logic that differs from Ravel’s undulating scene painting.
The Philharmonic played well all along, on the many waves and fluctuations of intensity and pigment, from dewy dawn to soft twilight. There were some particularly notable contributions to the potluck: Ryan Roberts, only a few years into his tenure as the orchestra’s English horn player but already a mainstay of the ensemble, matched Ólafsson’s eloquent introspection in the slow movement of the Ravel Concerto .
Flute captain Robert Langevin unfurled his instrument’s classic shimmering solo in “Daphnis et Chloé” with conversational ease. Cynthia Phelps, the first viola, had a russet color change in the Roussel, and Roger Nye, unusually seated in the first bassoon chair for that work, played with honeyed serenity.
Unlike most Thanksgiving dinners, the fullness at the end didn’t feel like bloating. The clear, cool acoustics of the new Geffen Hall work against textures that are too heavy; they prefer airy slimness, which is perfect for Denève, whose music-making exudes relaxation without losing forward momentum. A few hours later I would have been more than ready to eat – I mean hear – some more.
New York Philharmonic
This program will be repeated through Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Manhattan; nyphil.org.