A very Philadelphia concert

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Ricordanza
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A very Philadelphia concert

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Feb 05, 2012 5:27 pm

Although Thursday evening’s Philadelphia Orchestra concert could have been played by another ensemble in another place, there’s no denying that all components of this program had a strong connection to Philadelphia. That is, all except the guest conductor, Nicola Luisotti, music director of the San Francisco Opera, who made his debut with the orchestra.

Leopold Stokowski, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director from 1912 to 1936, is credited, along with his successor, Eugene Ormandy, as the creator of “the Philadelphia sound.” He showcased this sound by transcribing over 200 works for orchestra, including, most notably, 40 works by Bach. With more frequent performances of Bach’s music in its original instrumentation in the 1960’s and succeeding years, Stokowski’s Bach transcriptions had fallen out of favor. Some, such as Philadelphia Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns, believe they should remain out of favor, given the availability and acceptance of Bach’s music as originally written (note, for example, the performance just the previous week of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with harpsichord and baroque-sized ensemble). Hence, they say, there’s no longer a “need” for Stokowski’s grand, and sometimes grandiloquent transcriptions. But who cares if it’s needed? And does the transcription have to be judged in comparison to the original? We heard one of those Bach transcriptions on Thursday night-- the magnificent Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin. The original Chaconne is, indeed, a work of great eloquence. But the Stokowski transcription stands on its own as a stirring and heartfelt piece, which calls upon all the resources of a full, modern orchestra. Stokowski’s version was especially appealing to me, having heard for the first time about a week ago another orchestration of the Chaconne by the 19th Century composer Joachim Raff. A skilled and perfectly respectable composer, Raff’s version is thin and almost prissy, and pales in comparison to the majestic and inspiring version produced by Stokowski. I still love the original version, as well as the mighty and often-performed piano transcription by Ferruccio Busoni, but Stokowski’s orchestration deserves to be heard, as I’m sure it will in years to come.

While listening with fascination to Stokowski’s brilliant use of the orchestra in this familiar music, I also watched guest conductor Luisotti use some grand and even exaggerated gestures of his own. In the style of Stokowski, he used no baton, but rather, used his expressive hands to shape the performance. But in all these gestures, there was no discernible beat. Nevertheless, the orchestra members, fine ensemble players that they are, played as one, not 100, to produce a very fine performance.

There’s nothing distinctly Philadelphian about the next piece on the program, Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. But the solo violinist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, is a familiar name in this area. A Curtis Institute student at age eight, she made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the ripe old age of ten. A South Jersey resident at the time, she is now a frequent visitor to the area, and a most welcome one. For those used to the musical idiom of the Fifth Symphony and other popular works, Shostakovich’s Violin concerto No. 1 may strike the listener as a bit more, shall we say, challenging. Nevertheless, this four-movement work is a landmark of the modern violin concerto repertoire and Salerno-Sonnenberg’s performance was, at times, lyrical, introspective, exuberant and dazzling. The audience responded with a well-deserved thunderous ovation.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade has been a centerpiece of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s repertoire for decades, and has been recorded by the Orchestra no less than seven times, not counting the excerpts recorded way back in 1919 and 1921 with Stokowski on the podium. It remains an audience favorite, and why not? Gorgeous melodies, wonderful orchestration by one of the acknowledged masters of the art, and splendid opportunities for soloists, most notably, concertmaster David Kim. There are times for the more esoteric, more intellectually challenging works, but when it’s time for a “warhorse” that deserves to be a warhorse, there is no finer experience than listening to the Philadelphians glow and shine in this still captivating work.

Steinway
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Re: A very Philadelphia concert

Post by Steinway » Mon Feb 06, 2012 5:55 pm

Henry..

Great review, as always.

Sorry I missed this one.

See you Wednesday at the Kuerti recital.

Seán
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Re: A very Philadelphia concert

Post by Seán » Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:36 pm

That is a lovely and highly informative review Henry, well done, I enjoyed that.
Seán

"To appreciate the greatness of the Masters is to keep faith in the greatness of humanity." - Wilhelm Furtwängler

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