Walter Waugaman
Posted on Sat, Feb. 13, 2010

Orchestra delivers a Kancheli keeper
By Peter Dobrin
Inquirer Classical Music Critic

Now that we're all having relationships with our iPods, and now that the Philadelphia Orchestra is having a relationship with big retailers such as iTunes and Amazon for its live recordings, concert time teases the listener with a question: Was it iPod-worthy?

Yesterday afternoon's Suite from Stravinsky's The Firebird was lovely enough - expansive, sensuous, reasonably detailed. But I don't know that I need a digital souvenir of it, not with decades of Firebirds competing for precious storage space.

The Giya Kancheli, on the other hand, his "Morning Prayers" from Life Without Christmas - that's a keeper (or should be). Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko led the work scored, improbably, for strings, alto flute, piano, electric bass, and the taped sounds of organ and boy soprano. The orchestration belies the work's delicacy. You're not even sure what some of the sounds are or where they're coming from, so judiciously are these forces utilized.

Like Barber's Adagio for Strings and Górecki's Symphony No. 3, "Morning Prayers" (from 1990) hovers somewhere on the emotional scale between quietly aching and crushingly sad. It references ancient sources - hymnlike material, a burst of baroque strings, a traditional piano tune. Like Thomas Adès, the Tbilisi-born Kancheli sifts through the ruins of Western music, rearranging broken shards to suit his purpose. Yet it's strikingly not of this earth - the sort of spiritual experience you might want to relive in a more pastoral setting, earbuds in.

Barber's Night Flight is like that, too, with its evocation of quiet floating, but the work was pulled after this week's snow clipped rehearsals.

If a work had to be canceled, better that it was the Barber, since I've been keeping company with Louis Lortie on my iPod and was eager to hear him live. His vibrant Mendelssohn recording (playing and conducting the Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2, plus the Symphony No. 5), it turns out, was no fluke. With Boreyko and the orchestra yesterday, his Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 had a similarly strong point of view. Some of the liberties with tempos were extreme, but justified themselves with strong interpretive ideas. If Lortie was out to play the prettiest possible Chopin concerto - piano timbre as wind chime in the second movement, for instance - he succeeded.

Boreyko was a masterly presence in the concerto, having worked a high degree of detail into the orchestra parts. So much so that it made me wonder if the Stravinsky was shorted in this abbreviated workweek, and whether it might grow more potent as this series goes on.
Posted on 14 Feb 2010, 4:26 AM