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A Little Nightmare Music: New York Philharmonic, Summertime Classics
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A Little Nightmare Music: New York Philharmonic, Summertime Classics

- Classical and Cultural Connections

New York Philharmonic

(Summertime Classics Website)
A Little Nightmare Music

Lorin Maazel, Music Director

Bramwell Tovey, Conductor
Marc-André Hamelin, Piano
(NY Philharmonic Debut)

Performed at Avery Fisher Hall
Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 1, 2005

(Read More NY Philharmonic Summertime Classics Reviews).

J. S. Bach (1685-1750):
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 (orch. By Stokowski 1926). Stokowski conducted the NY Philharmonic 21 times in his arrangement from 1930 to 1948. Stokowski, associated with the NY Philharmonic, was Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 to 1936. (Program Notes).

What a delicious delight Bramwell Tovey is, so full of warmth, humility, humor, depth, intelligence, and energy! What a coup it was for New York Philharmonic to find him. Tovey enhances each and every musical work with personal and historical anecdotes that relate to the concert theme, such as tonight’s Nightmare Music. Tovey and the New York Philharmonic brought vigor and volume to Avery Fisher Hall in each and every piece they performed. The new NY skyline poster, replacing last year’s painting of Giverny, added edge and class.

The concert warmed up with the orchestral version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, usually performed on organ. I remember Stokowski in Fantasia standing in chiaroscuro, conducting this work. Tovey had the orchestra extend notes to infinity, for a chilling effect. This orchestral version should be heard more often.

Gounod (1818-93): Funeral March of a Marionette (1872, orch. 1879). The NY Philharmonic premiered this work in 1915, and it was last conducted here by Leonard Slatkin in 1987. This was meant to be a burlesque tale of mourners for a marionette, who lost a duel. Alfred Hitchcock arranged part of this theme in varied ways for his television series. (Program Notes).

As soon as the orchestra began playing this memorable tune, I envisioned Hitchcock in stark, scary form. I must rent one of his films soon, to hear this tune again, as the Philharmonic was so effective, especially in the tip-toe celli passages. Tovey related this piece to the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead, and his English accent was so reminiscent of Hitchcock.

Liszt (1811-86): Totentanz (Dance of Death) (1847, rev. 1862), Marc-André Hamelin on Piano. Leonard Bernstein conducted this work with the NY Philharmonic in 1965, and it was last played here in 1990 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist. Liszt dedicated this composition to Hans von Bülow. Liszt was inspired by Hans Holbein’s etchings. (Program Notes).

Marc-André Hamelin is a musician to watch. He exudes passion, presence, and power in his presentation. His interpretation of Liszt’s work with challenging contrasts (Hamelin is a specialist in Liszt repertoire) mesmerized the audience to a standing ovation and an introspective, Debussy encore.

Musorgsky (1839-81): Night on Bald Mountain (1866-67), orch. 1886 by Rimsky-Korsakov). The NY Philharmonic first played this piece in 1920, and it was last heard here in May 2005, Richman conducting. This work is inspired by tales of Slavic legends of fertility festivals, where Bald Mountain was the destination of demons and sorcerers. (Program Notes).

I could not help picturing Fantasia once again, as the Philharmonic and Tovey entertained us with this driven, wanton work. It seems that St. John’s Eve (June 23) is a Holiday that figures in much of theatre, music, and ballet, including NYC Ballet’s recent rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Philharmonic swept across the eery themes with elegance and edge. Crashing symbols were followed by chiming bells, as the creatures leave the mountain at sunrise.

Dukas (1865-1935): The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Scherzo after a ballad of Goethe (1897). This piece was first played by the NY Philharmonic in 1909, Mahler conducting, and was last heard here this June. It is best known for Disney’s 1940 Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as the Apprentice. The poem by Goethe relates the tale of an apprentice to a sorcerer who gets into serious trouble with a magic spell. (Program Notes).

I really imagined Fantasia again, with Mickey Mouse and the cloned brooms with rushing water. Dukas’ theme was interpreted in an engaging and electrically charged fashion. We learned about the double bassoon, a fascinating instrument, and so intrinsic to this work. In Hitchcock-like ambiance, the orchestra switches from tip-toe tenderness to full flooding frenzy. The viola illustrates the forlorn apprentice, shamed for his youthful mistake.

Liszt (1811-86): Second Mephisto Waltz (1880-81). Tonight was the NY Philharmonic premiere of this rare work. Liszt dedicated this work, inspired by Goethe’s exploration of the Faust legend, to Camille Saint-Saens. This work is one of four Mephisto Waltzes. (Program Notes).

This rarely heard work included airy flutes and a melodic harp solo. The elongated cello passage was soulful and sensuous, following shifting, but similar violin-cello themes. The raging, roaring ending was a fitting finale to frightful, nightmarish music. Kudos to the New York Philharmonic, and kudos to Bramwell Tovey.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at