Philadelphia Orchestra - semi-classical but all good

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Philadelphia Orchestra - semi-classical but all good

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Mar 11, 2012 7:13 am

An evening of esoteric or intellectually challenging works may stimulate the mind and inspire the soul, but there’s a different kind of enjoyment associated with a concert program of (take your pick) semi-classical or semi-pops works. It’s especially enjoyable when such a program is as well played as we heard at Thursday evening’s Philadelphia Orchestra concert.

Guest conductor James Gaffigan, making his debut with the orchestra, began the evening with the Symphonic Suite from Leonard Bernstein’s score for the film On the Waterfront. This wonderful music is edgy, moody, with just enough dissonance to move the listener out of one’s comfort zone. Remarkably, it’s only been programmed once before (in 1998) by the Philadelphians.

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is played much more frequently, but usually by the Philly Pops, Peter Nero’s ensemble, or by the Philadelphia Orchestra itself during their summer series at the Mann Music Center. But one has to go all the way back to 1966 to find this standby on a subscription series program. Why? Remarkably inventive for its time (1924) in the effort to use a jazz idiom to construct a mini-concerto or tone poem for piano and orchestra, it remains an outstanding piece of music. Thursday night’s performance was, simply put, dazzling. Piano soloist Stewart Goodyear stayed with the score, as far as I could tell, but somehow brought an improvisatory quality to the solo passages. Yes, his playing at times seemed designed to call attention to himself, but isn’t that what we expect from a jazz piece, when each instrumentalist, in turn, holds the spotlight for a solo riff? In Ferde Grofe’s superb orchestration, several orchestra members also had a chance to shine, especially principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales. The loud “bravos” he received at the end were well deserved for his great solos, starting with the famous opening. But I’m sure that many audience members were equally thrilled by the recent news that Morales, instead of fleeing for the New York Philharmonic as previously announced, is staying right here.

After intermission, it was time for music heard more often at the ballet than the symphony hall: 12 excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Let’s be honest, it’s not just one of the greatest ballet scores, it’s great music, period. Each one of these twelve scenes is rich in melody and emotion, and Tchaikovsky’s use of the resources of the orchestra continues to amaze. As we’ve come to expect in this repertoire, the Philadelphia strings continue to produce their incomparable sound, and several solo players had the opportunity to display their talents. Concertmaster David Kim’s tone sounded a little thin, but based on previous strong solos by him, I have to attribute this to our particular seat location—just a quirk of Verizon Hall that the sound from his particular spot on the stage did not reach that well to our location center-right on the First Tier. But Harpist Elizabeth Hainen and Cellist Hai-Ye Ni contributed particularly memorable solos.

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