[They are now what their cousins, the Hungarians, used to be...:)]
Financial Times / November 7, 2005 / Arts & Ideas
Mikko Franck / N.Y. Philharmonic
Avery Fisher Hall
His name is Mikko Franck, and he must be a great white hope in
the beleaguered world of baton virtuosos. Only 26 - a mere child
- he already heads the Orchestre National de Belgique. Next
season he takes over the National Opera in his native Finland.
On Thursday he finally made his twice-deferred debut as guest
with the New York Philharmonic.
Franck doesn't seem to fit conventional images. He favours
thorny repertory. Apparently more interested in leading the
orchestra than the audience, he avoids flamboyant gestures. He
isn't tall, doesn't cut a dashing figure on the podium. In fact
he eschews conventional podium stances and conducts much of the
time while seated on a throne-like chair. That, we are told,
is a concession to a back injury. In moments of agitation,
however, he steps down and works floor-level, eye to eye with
He cannot manage miracles, however, in a hit-and-run engagement.
Beethoven's third "Leonore" overture, which opened the programme,
emerged a bit brash and perfunctory. Shostakovich's Fifth
Symphony, which closed it, brooded broadly and relatively quietly
at the outset. When the composer succumbed to bombast and kitsch,
however, the conductor followed suit. At least the crashes and
sighs were neatly gauged.
The centrepiece, and highlight of the evening, took the taut
form of Alfred Schnittke's "Concerto Grosso No. 5 for Violin
and Invisible Piano." Gidon Kremer, who had been the soloist for
the premiere at nearby Carnegie Hall in 1991, once again untied
the structural knots with tireless strength, making the convoluted
seem simple. Andrius Zlabys made much of the ghostly utterances
assigned to the amplified keyboard in the wings. Franck held
the disparate elements together with equal parts bravura and
sensitivity. He managed to drive Schnittke's cumbersome apparatus
with unflagging focus yet no fuss. What, one wonders, will he
illuminate next time?
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