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Great expert in a great concert
Alan Gilbert, chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic, debuted at the stand of the Gewandhaus orchestra
Peter Korfmacher | Leipziger Volkzeitung | 9 February 2013

The trumpet blows drive deep into the marrow at the start of Tchaikovsky's 4th. However, nothing brutal happened in the great concert on Thursday evening in the sold-out Gewandhaus. Because Alan Gilbert, the chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic and for the first time at the stand of the Gewandhaus orchestra, is the master of measuring things out. He doesn't let any tanks drive up but allows the fabulous metal sheet to bounce lightly. And when they come back around three quarters of an hour later, those fanfare-tones have changed and have taken the four movements into themselves – they cover the emotional resistance of the first movement, the melancholic beauty of the Andantino, the grumpy joke of the Scherzo, the dogged brilliance of the finale with blackness. No wonder that the work received the slightly sensational nickname 'fate-symphony'.

Gilbert fills a gap in the Gewandhaus. The conducting-top-league is rarely seen as the guest-conductor. The orchestra has to thank the Mahler-Festtagen of 2011 that Gilbert is the second highest calibre of this season after John Eliot Gardiner. Gardiner heard the quality of the orchestra back then as Gilbert was a guest with his New Yorkers. And both have now shown how important such guest conductorships are. They bring out colours that others leave unheard. With Gardiner it was the wiry transparency, with Gilbert it was the velvety precision that characterise his US orchestra – paired with the ochre tones of the Leipziger.

Gilbert is an unpretentious expert. One who can embed the sensuality and clarity in gestures of suggestive persuasion. One whom the orchestra surrounding concertmaster Frank-Michael Erben will eat out of the palm of in real time. One who is able to let the tone vibrate with intensity at the limit of nothingness. And he searches out these boundaries between tone and silence very often.

He develops Sergej Prokofiev's first violin concerto out of nothingness. One moment it isn't clear if he has started yet. Then the tender strength of the strings fills the room and Lisa Batiashvili begins a song of crystalline beauty on her Joachim-Stradivari. This D major concerto is played comparatively often. But just as often it remains strangely brittle. With Gilbert and Batiashvili it loses all its searching. Even the murderous virtuosity of the Scherzo goes up in musical logic. Essential violin play melts with the shimmering colour-reflexes of the orchestra to become a musical logic of the greatest nature. Elegant, but not superficial, striking sparks but not a show-off.

Gilbert lets even Prokofiev's symphony classic shine in a new light. There is no trace of classicist vagueness. With a silver point he traces the fine lines, a little hesitantly in the tempo, as if he didn't want to overplay any of the treasures of this work.

A really great 'Great Concert', with a great conductor, who hopefully isn't standing for the last time at the Gewandhaus stand. The tension discharged into an exultant cheering at the end – that Erben killed a little too quickly with a mood of ostentatious departure from the stage.
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