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Bartok in the Throes of a Love Unrequited
Steve Smith | The New York Times | 21 May 2012

Hail the conquering heroes.

The New York Philharmonic, having met with acclaim during a seven-concert sweep through California, its first domestic tour since Alan Gilbert became its music director in 2009, returned to Avery Fisher Hall on Saturday for a program of works presented during that excursion: Dvorak's concert overture "Carnival," Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.

Actually, the Dvorak and Tchaikovsky pieces were heard here before the tour as well, framing the premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Piano Concerto No. 2, which subsequently wowed West Coast listeners. Still, you heard no signs of wear or ennui. The Dvorak curtain-raiser blazed with an intensity that blew you back in your seat, at least initially, and offered frolic aplenty. The Tchaikovsky was notable for both its forcefulness and its fluidity: potentially opposing impulses kept in keen balance through Mr. Gilbert's thoughtful molding of phrases and nuanced dynamics.

Unsentimental almost to a fault, the account ultimately said more about Mr. Gilbert's confidence and the orchestra's brilliance than about whatever private torments may have haunted the composer's soul. Fair enough: Cloying Tchaikovsky grows on trees. Hearing the notes played with distinction and steel was refreshing.

The novelty of the program, and in the end its most substantial draw, was the Bartok concerto, with Glenn Dicterow, the Philharmonic concertmaster, as the soloist. The work, composed by a 27-year-old Bartok in the throes of an unrequited love, is cast in two movements, a luminous, introverted Andante and an Allegro by turns rapturous and frisky. A planned third movement was abandoned when the object of Bartok's desire rebuffed him; still, the work does not feel incomplete.

What the concerto lacks, perhaps, is grandstanding flash. But that just made it all the better to showcase Mr. Dicterow's estimable feel for long, flowing lines; his nuanced attention to matters of mood; and, above all, his precise coordination with his fellow musicians.
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