In this concert, his debut with the New York Philharmonic, Tugan Sokhiev conducted a Russian program. The evening opened with an atmospheric rendering of the Borodin, not heard for more than a decade at the Philharmonic. Sokhiev’s elegant, understated conducting, consistently graceful in gesture and clearly definable, immediately impressed and had the Philharmonic musicians demonstrating their mettle: there were atmospheric solos, especially from Mindy Kaufman’s flute.
Then Gil Shaham gave an exceptionally warm and characterful performance of Prokofiev. Displaying refinement and command, Shaham took a gently reflective approach to the yearning melodies of the outer movements, and delivered a Scherzo that was delightfully droll. He was well-supported throughout by Sokhiev and the superbly polished Philharmonic. A grinning Shaham announced a short encore, the bluesy ‘Lenny in Spats’ movement (a Bernstein-Astaire homage) from William Bolcom’s Suite No.2.
Following intermission was a commanding account of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Sokhiev gave a spacious reading, molding long phrases and intensifying the music’s dark fatefulness, and the Philharmonic played with great unity of purpose and radiance. The first movement’s fanfares compelled attention, and the start of the Moderato con anima was relaxed but very persuasive. Sherry Sylar’s oboe in the opening of the second movement was gorgeous, and the Scherzo’s pizzicatos were remarkably taut, woodwinds especially distinctive. The vigorous Finale culminated in a triumphant crescendo, with riveting results. This was Tchaikovsky seasoned with passion as well as an agreeable dash of restraint and refinement.