Saturday, June 9, 2012

concert review: Philadelphia Orchestra

The last of the visiting all-star orchestras at Davies this season, led by Charles Dutoit, who is titled Chief Conductor rather than Music Director. Whatever his title, he, and they, certainly deserved to be here.

This was the only one of these concerts I've attended that didn't feature a recently-commissioned work (they're playing one tomorrow, though). That may have been part of the reason the concert was so delectable, but not just because of the absence of a potentially dodgy new work, but because it left more room to play three works from the 1930s and 1940s, all of them written as shameless audience-pleasers, and all of them now firmly in the canon of masterworks of the last century. This is not what the avant-gardeists of the time had in mind as the legacy of their age, and a thumb 'o the nose in the eye to them.

It was not, however, a repertoire designed to emphasize the sumptuousness of the legendary Philadelphia Sound.

Ravel's Piano Concerto in G (originally the concert was listed with the other Ravel concerto, but I guess they changed their minds) with Louis Lortie, one concerto for which "tickling the ivories" is an accurate description of playing it, light and speedy with all the Gershwin cribs in the first movement plainly sticking out.

Hindemith's Weber Metamorphosis, exceedingly speedy - no breaks taken between movements - with the weight provided by a lot of grunting and growling from the winds and brass.

Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, more slowly, and with the pauses, but not as if Dutoit were trying to pile all the weight of Volkov's Testimony on it. This symphony is already heavy enough, so there was no added growling, but there was the dismaying sound of horn flubs in the first movement.

Encore, Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla Overture. Dazzling enough for the role, but longer and more varied than the typical orchestral encore. Speedy again.

Throughout, the strings were strong and fairly deep-toned, but none of Stokowski's bowing tricks so there was nothing really startling or unique about it. The balance of the sections, with a particularly subdued percussion, oddly enough, was the most distinctive character.

I almost didn't make the concert, because had I been one second faster walking up to the intersection across the street from the auditorium, I would have been slammed into by the mad bicyclist - a common figure hereabouts, and recently the cause of several pedestrian deaths - riding full tilt up the sidewalk on the cross street through a fairly crowded pedestrian environment, mutually invisible through the stone building that formed the corner. And he wasn't even wearing spandex, so so much for that stereotype limitation.

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