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'Gilbert, Philharmonic at Their Finest in Carl Nielsen': A Roundup of Reviews

Posted October 03, 2014

Alan Gilbert NY Philharmonic

In a review of the latest in our “welcome airings” of music by Nielsen, part of a multiyear effort called The Nielsen Project, The New York Times wrote (of Wednesday's concert):

The players clearly share Mr. Gilbert’s enthusiasm for the composer, conveying the music with a commitment and attention to detail that rendered the Fifth [Symphony] an exciting traversal of contrasting moods. … The enigmatic clarinet solo at the end of the first movement was beautifully rendered by Marc Nuccio. The dramatic finale, with skittish winds and subdued strings, contrasted with passages of blazing fury, unfolded with mesmerizing force.

In, Harry Rolnick wrote

Some of us wore our “I Heart Nielsen” badges with utmost pride. But the conductor didn’t need a badge. He conducted the Maskarade overture like it was a circus parade. ... Mr. Gilbert ... leaped and jumped, cued in everybody, and showed a physical enthusiasm for the composer which — even for the unsuspecting audience — was unavoidably infectious. ... 

He conducted the very polarized Fifth Symphony with bravado, with stern attention to the percussion and wind solos, and those countless fugues, with as much transparency as possible. Mr. Gilbert certainly has the orchestra to make these variegated moods live. After all, Leonard Bernstein had the same love for Nielsen. But his recordings of the Fifth, while rich and broad, didn’t even attempt when the conductor did last night. ... Mr. Gilbert made certain that the music rose above the polarity of emotions, he balanced the grand murals with the eccentric solos.

But it was in the Sixth Symphony that Mr. Gilbert gave a performance I could never even imagine. ... The second movement, called Humoreske, is played usually as a debonair parody. Mr. Gilbert decided to make it a full-fledged attack. ... For the introduction, he spaced out the different solos–triangles, drum tapes, wind notes– them over the orchestra. After that, Mr. Gilbert rode the orchestra like it was a mad bull ... 

Reviewing the same concert in New York Classical Review, Amanda Angel wrote, of the Fifth Symphony:

Gilbert set principal percussionist Christopher Lamb on the rest of the Philharmonic, and he relentlessly staged an attack with a variety of dynamics. Sounding at once like a drum major and a rain of bullets, the drumming kept the piece spontaneous and troubling. In a clever bit of stagecraft, Lamb, receded off stage, as Anthony McGill, the orchestra’s new principal clarinet (who will play the solo part of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto to finish the cycle this January), played a wistful idyll to close the movement. The tension continued through the second movement with a series of roiling tempests, relentlessly pounding timpani, repetitive motifs, and a heroic effort by the horn section.

(Photo: Chris Lee)