Walter Waugaman
I agree with everything in this review. - Walter Waugaman

Posted on Sat, Oct. 31, 2009

Led by Jurowski, the orchestra steps up its game
By Peter Dobrin
Inquirer Classical Music Critic
While the leadership of the Philadelphia Orchestra has been getting its fiscal and administrative house in order, the ensemble has had its own work to do. Up to this point, musical standards have generally held steady. Thursday night, however, the group was in a different state altogether.
In a program of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev that looked promising but hardly assured any particular outcome, the orchestra soared to a level of sculpted detail, exactitude, and nimble expressiveness that functioned as the next step in its evolution.
It appears that conductor Vladimir Jurowski has gathered a stalwart following from his previous three visits: Though competing with Game Two of the World Series, the concert was one of the best-attended this season, filling 80 percent of Verizon Hall.
Moreover, with Tchaikovsky's popular Violin Concerto on the first half, listeners had an easy chance to bolt after intermission in time to see (as it turned out) the Phillies lose. Yet they stayed for Prokofiev's knotty and relatively obscure Symphony No. 4 in its expanded revision.
The orchestra was operating on such a high level, on so many different levels, that you really had to question the accepted wisdom that music is a subjective matter. There was no way to argue, for instance, with the marvel of an ensemble sound that changed with the repertoire. Many conductors claim the ideal, but few actually realize it.
In Stravinsky's Scherzo fantastique, an early work (Op. 3) of stunning orchestration that shares some of its language with The Firebird, the orchestra had on its most luminous and velvety persona - that traditional famed richness. Fine gradations of dynamics and delicate hybrid instrumental doublings gave the score a three-dimensional quality. The orchestra matched Jurowski's body language phrase for phrase: dancelike and flowing, or rigid and astringent. Phrasings were deftly attached as ideas moved from one instrumental section to another.
An entirely different sound infused the Prokofiev - actually, at least two sounds, growing from the opposite poles of strident and caressing. Paradox was at work here; the greater the chances Jurowski took, expressively speaking, the tighter the ensemble grew. Without exception, each solo player bloomed in his or her moment. Bass drummer Christopher Deviney, clarinetist Ricardo Morales, hornist Jennifer Montone, trumpeter David Bilger, and trombonist Nitzan Haroz were not only adroit, but also notably individualistic.
A concerto is not normally the site of a conductor's great contribution, but this Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was completely rebuilt from the ground up. Jurowski took the opening as an unusually quick gust. Violinist Sergey Khachatryan countered by playing the solo exposition slowly and quietly personal. He's got a sweet tone, an inner glow, and his untraditional way with phrasing and tempos verged on revelatory.
But Jurowski made it about the orchestra. He solved the many little ensemble glitches that somehow have become ingrained in the piece despite how often it is played. The second movement was not bogged down with the misconception that it is a slow, sacred text. This was a Tchaikovsky concerto taut and powerful and shaped by the spirit of reinvention - in the end a symphonic poem that asserted a great deal more sophistication than mere subservience to the soloist.
Jurowski made this orchestra sound like the highest form of itself. There's nothing subjective about that notion - nor, in this protracted season of music-director hunting, does anything else matter.
Posted on 4 Nov 2009, 8:18 PM