Reviews
Walter Waugaman
All around wonderful performance - went home humming some of the melodic themes of the last movement of the Brahms piano concerto.

I agree with Peter Dobrin's review in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 10-03-09 below.

The Philadelphia Orchestra now has a compelling, if regrettable, story line: Finances are a mess, but it plays great.

The orchestra advanced that narrative with new details Thursday night, arguing in effect that the beauty of which it is capable outstrips the financial turmoil by several degrees of severity.

This seems to be a time of reckoning, and as if on cue, Charles Dutoit's program of Brahms and Bartók laid open several critical issues. After a summer of playing with variable precision and commitment under other conductors, the orchestra is more than ever dependent on podium direction. Dutoit is having a cumulative beneficent effect. And when he's here - along with a small number of other conductors - the ensemble is magically tight and assured.

But Dutoit's authority is limited. He's not music director; he does not have a hand in personnel matters. If, in fact, this is a time for truth-telling, you had to acknowledge in Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 that certain individual voices in the orchestra are not what they should be in terms of precision or charisma.
The ensemble was impeccably blended. But the horn solos that echo throughout the piece, for instance, should be more than merely fine. They should take your breath away.

The extended cello solo at the opening of the third movement can make you weep, and while it was perfectly executed by principal cellist Hai-Ye Ni, technical triumph is not the only thing you want here. Individuality of orchestral solos defines greatness just as much as blended ensemble, and here it was in short supply.
Personality was abundant at the keyboard. It's safe to say there is no pianist around remotely like Yefim Bronfman. Labor doesn't seem to ever enter the equation; he is simply everywhere, instantly and all the time. And he does it with none of the narcissistic visual drama, the bang and the flash, of some others.

If he's a strongman, he is also a poet - or at least, he can be. There were moments when a slight matter-of-factness crept into his playing, but he says what he wants expressively and in a completely involving way. When the recapitulation arrived in the first movement, you realized, retroactively, that you really had been to a different place.

Dutoit coupled the Brahms with a frequent visitor, Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin, this time in the complete version that beautifully conveyed the pantomime's violence and bankrupt morals with searing trombones and a lurid bassoon solo. You could be spooked by the content while still being grateful for a cultivated delivery. It was a little bit like being read the police blotter by Alistair Cooke.
Posted on 12 Oct 2009, 1:47 AM
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