With mesmerising energy and unwavering rhythm, Lorin Maazel exerted absolute control over the New York Philharmonic (in his final season as conductor), performing Ravel's 'Ma mère L'Oye' (Mother Goose Suite), 'The Miraculous Mandarin Suite' by Bartók and a moving rendition of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.
Ravel's Suite, based on fairy tales, was first written as five pieces for piano duet, but is an item of true French Classicism, being almost balletic: both delicate and intense. The 'Pavane', with Maazel's meticulous attention to detail, instantly demonstrated the orchestra's connection to their conductor and combined an almost ethereal sound with beautiful precision and sensitive pianissimo. By contrast, an entirely different sound world was explored in 'Tom Thumb', with richer strings, lyrical flute lines and quirky 'cuckoo impressions', followed by miraculous ensemble in the 'Empress of the Pagodas' and accurate interpretations of its character, capturing the climaxes with controlled dynamic levels. 'Conversations of Beauty and the Beast', characterised respectively by clarinet and bassoon, displayed well-balanced sound and convincing imitation, complemented by superb climaxes. Lastly, 'The Fairy Garden' showed Maazel as a master of creativity, containing stunning strings until the last dramatic crescendo, capturing its fantasy in an instant.
Bartók's 'Miraculous Mandarin' Suite was rewritten for concerts since its stage performance by the Philharmonic Society, under Dohnányi in 1928. The story comprises three thugs forcing 'Mimi' to lure men from the street for robbing. The first two victims, both of shallow pockets, are thrown out. The enigmatic Mandarin follows, whose impassivity frightens Mimi who dances until, suddenly, he embraces her and a chase ensues. When caught by the thugs, he is stabbed and suffocated, but is invincible until Mimi takes him in her arms and his wounds prove fatal. The music introduces a noisy, volatile street atmosphere with calculated tempi, clear transitions between sections, superbly ominous low strings and rhythmic drive that did not detract from the depth of sound. Eerie clarinet solos heightened the tension until outbursts of brass and percussion, with fiery strings, culminated in a magnificent tutti. Never a dull moment – players even looked the part in fitting 'mandarin collars'!
Tchaikovsky's Fourth symphony, written at a traumatic time in his life, represents unknown fate, with wonderfully articulated brass fanfares in the first movement and intensity of tone, colour and long phrases, demonstrating the anguish that the music is. The lilting woodwind and string tunes almost provide respite from the utter despair. The second movement, beginning with a haunting oboe solo, was completely different. However, I enjoyed the third more for its magical ensemble playing and impressive dynamic contrasts. The finale represents the whole symphony, echoing the harmonies and melodies of both the first and second, and was at an ideal tempo.
Maazel showed true artistry in the symphony drawing sparkling, vivacious sounds from the orchestra, containing anxiety in every note. Three brilliant encores confirmed his and the orchestra's versatility and ability to communicate the styles of any era to their audience.
I was privileged to enjoy such a memorable occasion: a concert of exceptional music and outstanding musicians.
(Encores: Dvorak Slavonic Dance Opus 72 Number 1, Brahms Hungarian Dance Number 5, Bizet Farandole from L'Arlésienne Suite Number 2).
By Emmanuel Bach, age 15
Emmanuel saw the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 29th August 2008.