NJSO plays Chopin and Brahms

Inon Barnatan
New Jersey Star-Ledger

By Ronni Reich 

New faces took the stage with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at the Richardson Auditorium on Friday, livening up a program that paired two popular concert works, each of which demanded prodigious skill and sensitivity.

Guest conductor Stefan Sanderling, principal conductor of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and former music director of the Florida Orchestra, led the orchestra in a dramatic performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 4. Joining them was rising musician Inon Barnatan, the New York Philharmonic's first artist-in-association, making his NJSO debut as the soloist for Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Barnatan gave a decisive, exacting take on the concerto's energetic, virtuosic moments and also displayed confidence and a feel for the work as he sunk comfortably into the composer's characteristic wistful, melodic mode. He created a mood that was bittersweet and nostalgic but not maudlin. The playing was smooth and dexterous with piquant accents at the extremes of the instrument and an appealingly focused, tapered tone.

There were sparks of passion as the music vaulted upward. The orchestra interjected with an operatic tone that called to mind Verdi's choruses, with arias for the piano that Barnatan met with a fittingly song-like approach. Although there was not a huge variety of timbre and character, the playing was unflaggingly elegant, including in the final gleeful dance.

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