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I cannot recall a program so exotic as the one proposed by the New York Philharmonic – Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Concerto and Zemlinsky one-acter Eine florentinische Tragödie. I had no experience of conductor James Conlon in the Classical repertoire and he surprised me positively with an elegant, forward-moving and sensitive account on Beethoven’s early piano concerto. The Philharmonic played in state of grace and their soloist, Jonathan Biss, is someone to watch – his nimble and yet generous playing involved marvelous fluent scales and tone-colouring worthy of a singer.

As for the Zemlinsky, as a friend of mine uses to say, if you have to be explained something before it happens, brace yourself. After the intermission, the conductor got hold of a microphone and explained what an injustice it was that Zemlinsky’s music has fallen into oblivion. I am not a specialist in Zemlinsky, but I have found nothing memorable in Eine florentinische Tragödie, but for the composer’s talent for orchestration. There is not one phrase in the whole opera close to cantabile, there is no dramatic timing – it sounds like people talking in strenuous tessitura over a huge showcase of orchestration technique. The Philharmonic did its part brilliantly, but the singers here involved were not really up to their ingrateful tasks. Maybe great singers could have saved the day – I have my share of doubts. As it was, Tatiana Pavlovskaya should be warned that whatever she is doing, she should not go on. Her amazingly artifficially covered sound will not allow her a long career. If I say that bluntly, it is because it would be a pity for a singer to be a victim of improper technique. Anthony Dean Griffey’s forward vocal placement seemed a blessing in comparison, but there is more than a splash of Charaktertenor in him to cause the right impression in the role of the young dashing tenor. James Johnson had the lion’s share in the music and the fact that he was really overparted was not of great help.

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