In the first of two Carnegie Hall concerts, Valery Gergiev, in his second season with the Munich Philharmonic, led an engaging program of Ravel and Beethoven well-suited to his highly kinetic style, opening with an edgy and slyly seductive account of Ravel’s La valse. Gergiev’s expressive gestures emphasized the work’s weightier and disturbing aspects – the intentionally clouded colors, the rhythmic incongruities, and the aura of dissipation, Ravel’s mastery on display as the ghostly, hallucinatory music slowly built up and blended into a shimmering and precarious – ultimately breathtaking – exploration of the Viennese waltz.
Such frenzy was followed by the sparkling and bluesy Piano Concerto in G, in which Pierre-Laurent Aimard played brilliantly and with fluidity. He made the most of the vibrancy and wit in the outer movements (the first included an exquisite harp passage) and judged to perfection the unaccompanied beginning to the central Adagio – conveying maximum expressiveness within a constant pulse – and leading to the warm sounds of woodwinds. The Finale was a display of color. Aimard offered an encore, an incredibly fast and fluent account of Debussy’s Étude No.6 (‘Pour les huit doigts’).
Following intermission, for Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, Gergiev’s emphasis was on intensity and sensational effect. He brought a furiously fleet tempo to the first movement, an impression of strength, and marked by dynamic extremes. However, after such invigoration, the ‘Funeral March’, taken very slowly and without exaggeration, was less than compelling. The Scherzo, with some splendid horn-playing, was of dash and bravura, and the Finale was brisk and urgent, swept along to an exciting conclusion.