Katia and Marielle Labèque joined the New York Philharmonic for Max Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos (1912); the Philharmonic’s only previous presentation of it was in November 1917. Bruch’s piece, a re-composition of his Third Suite for Orchestra, has a tortured history. He wrote this Concerto for another duo of sisters, the Americans Rose and Ottilie Sutro, who introduced it in 1916 with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski. Unbeknownst to Bruch, the siblings had recast the music extensively, altering the structure and orchestration, simplifying the technical demands, and then brazenly copyrighting their revision. It wasn’t until 1970 that the piece was reconstructed, compiled from a discovered score autographed by the composer. The Labèques performed it first in the 1980s.
This richly romantic piece is pleasant enough – well-turned with some engaging ideas – but hardly a blockbuster. The Labèques, seated at their magnificent Steinways, delivered a polished rendition, and Semyon Bychkov’s keenly attentive and caring conducting ensured a warm accompaniment. As an encore the dense and propulsive final number of Philip Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos (2008), climaxing in streams of forcefully repetitious chords, gave further opportunity for the Labèques to display their artistry and dramatic style.
Following intermission the bulked-up Philharmonic gave an ardently-played account of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. Distinguished by Bychkov’s masterful conducting, the horns playing at their very best, and concertmaster Frank Huang’s elegant rendering of the sensuous violin passages, it made for an invigorating performance.