Walter Waugaman
I agree with most of Peter Dobrin's review in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 10-17-09. In addition to his comments in the review, I noticed that not only the Schumann Symphony No. 1, "Spring," but all of the works in the program were played "straight tone" ie., without vibrato. I thought this worked well in everything except the Schumann symphony. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole program.

By Peter Dobrin

Roger Norrington at the Philadelphia Orchestra is a bit like the substitute teacher who catches you by surprise one day. First, you find that he's moved everything around. And then, when he makes his first sound, he's using phrases you've never heard before. Doesn't he know how things are done around here?

Of course he does. But you don't import the conductor who founded the London Classical Players unless you're expecting new ideas. Or in this case, old ones. Norrington is known for his advocacy of period instruments and historically correct instrumental techniques, and although there's a limit to what he can do in a week with the Philadelphia Orchestra - an organism of very 20th-century sensibilities - it's salutary for the orchestra to stretch itself, as you could hear it doing yesterday afternoon in a program of three works (all in B flat major) by Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann.

The Schumann, the Symphony No. 1, "Spring," was not an enormous success. Norrington banished vibrato from the strings, as is his wont, and the lean and clipped sound might have done good things for clarity. But what was lost in terms of warmth was substantial. He sometimes restricted his number of beats per bar in the first movement, which made the kinds of connections between phrases he might have been seeking, but left a lot of detail untended.

Norrington is not exactly Mr. Fix-it in performance. His gestures are basic, and he stops conducting at certain points, presumably to encourage chamber music-like interactions among the players. That worked in Mozart's Bassoon Concerto, K. 191, with an orchestra of fewer than two dozen players, where shared ideas fired like synapses around the ensemble. Hornist Jeffrey Lang was particularly elegant in the way he wove his sound into those around him. Principal bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa was a more than respectable soloist, nimble and legato if not brimming with personality.

Norrington's contributions to Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 were the most rewarding on the program. He heightened drama by slowing the "adagio" introduction and brightening the "allegro vivace" that followed. Don S. Liuzzi used hard, small mallets to get a sound more like a snare-drum roll than the resonant thud he usually gets with his timpani. The second movement, marked "Adagio," was faster than I've ever heard it, which changed its usual saunter into something more jubilant. If the fourth movement remained to be worked out, the dynamics and accents of the third were so effectively deployed they made you grateful to hear it expressed in somebody else's odd, unexpected way.
Posted on 26 Oct 2009, 4:18 AM