Walter Waugaman
Posted on Sat, Apr. 10, 2010

One for the road: Orchestra tunes up for Asia

By David Patrick Stearns
Inquirer Classical Music Critic

The Philadelphia Orchestra's spring tour of Asia is making itself felt in the coming Kimmel Center concert weeks, as chief conductor Charles Dutoit blows dust off repertoire that's going on the road, with Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Debussy's La Mer making welcome returns on Friday.

Performances were a significant step away from a caliber appropriate to Tokyo's Suntory Hall (or, for that matter, Carnegie Hall, where the program is repeated on Tuesday), though Dutoit's authority with this music was apparent in any number of respects. So much of what happens in Debussy and Stravinsky involves orchestral color, and few conductors project sound as an expressive end unto itself (as opposed to architecture built from individual notes) as convincingly as Dutoit.

His version of the Philadelphia sound is lean, clean, and lithe, with a sense of keen differentiation of sound that came into play particularly at the climax of any given piece. Although Dutoit uses sheer force when necessary, he was inclined on Friday to go for extra clarity in the final movements of Rite of Spring, whose Part Two easily becomes anticlimactic. Intensity was escalated by revealing more of what's there.

In the third movement of La Mer, the instrumentation shift toward the lower brass, always dramatic, bordered on heart-stopping in ways that set off the melody that followed, aided by particularly intense violin tremolo. Both pieces were built on blocks of sound shaped by Dutoit with phrasing and tempo that felt inarguably right. What was missing? A consistency of animation, as if the orchestra was laboring under unusually high pollen count in the air.

The one piece that won't be touring will be missed: Szymanowski's infrequently heard Symphonie concertante Op. 60 (also known as Symphony No. 4) - making its second Philadelphia Orchestra appearance in three years at the instigation of pianist Piotr Anderszewski. Though Szymanowski's choral works have gritty harmonies that anticipate Penderecki, this feverishly dense 1932 piece is as harmonically mercurial as early Prokofiev and layered with as many simultaneous events as Nielsen. It gives so much primary musical information to individual orchestral sections that you might call it a Concerto for Everything.

Such descriptions are complimentary, though it's hard to know why a pianist of Anderszewski's visibility is so attracted to music whose thick scoring is bound to drown him out at various points. When most audible, Anderszewski's Mozartean sensibility was welcome and apparent: In a piece that could easily become unwieldy, the sort of precision and detail he brought to the music acted as a necessary beacon of clarity.
Posted on 11 Apr 2010, 1:33 AM