Much was expected from the Philadelphia Orchestra tonight in Davies Hall,
but more was given. Christoph Eschenbach conducted a large, slow,
surprising Tchaikovsky Fifth, but that was not the story. The extraordinary
came in the first half of the concert, with a Mozart Sinfonia concertante
in E-flat major for the ages.
Eschenbach and the Philadelphians gave a work transparent in every note
a whole new meaning by playing it in such a way that no considerations
or judgments came into play. One was getting lost in the music completely,
utterly, and blissfully. I have heard very few orchestras in the world
producing such a rich, burnished and yet crisp and youthful sound,
instruments speaking separately and together in a totally captivating
way. Eschenbach, surely one of the clearest and best communicators on
the podium, presided over a freely, elegantly flowing performance that
went from glory to greater glory yet... although nothing could equal
the ethereally floating end of the Adagio.
The orchestra played memorably enough all by itself, but let's hear
it for the four soloists: these principal players were all magic, well
deserving three huge rounds of applause, and the sincere homage from
their colleagues. Richard Woodhams' oboe speaks with the voice of angels;
Ricardo Morales' clarinet and Daniel Matsukawa's bassoon are rock solid;
Jennifer Montone's horn is both powerful and lush. This was Mozart not
only flawless, but something very close to the impossible: perfect.
Without the Sinfonia, Tchaikovsky would have ruled the evening, but
the truth is that nothing could stand up to the Mozart. Eschenbach
certainly owns the Fifth, conducting without a score, the music pouring
from his body, just as it had during his career as a great pianist. He
opened the Tchaikovsky - and maintained throughout - in a slow, deliberate,
thoughtful, wistful manner, not giving in to sentimentality, cheap or
otherwise. Although the brass was spread out upstage, rather than bunched
in one corner, some development passages were noisy, too much volume
from the brass, too harsh sounds from the timpani.
And yet, performance virtues were well in evidence, especially with
one of the gorgeously lyrical themes in the second movement coming from
nowhere, sounding as if played offstage, in a great distance, and then
arriving to envelop the hall in the sound. One of the biggest, most
"obvious" themes came casually, without preparation or exclamation marks
surrounding it. A huge fortissimo made a toddler cry, making one wonder
what she was doing in the audience in the first place; the Youth Orchestra
concert was in the afternoon.
One would be hard put to explain what a "Russian sound" is, but this
was Tchaikovsky without nationality or idiosyncrasies - just the music.
The dancing theme of the third movement yielded to turmoil without being
tragic; drama and power prevailed, sentimentality was kept in check.
Eschenbach's transitions and dynamic changes were simple, smooth,
effective. That big march in the fourth movement, however, wasn't quite
as crisp and majestic as other performances present it, and the finale
was fine, but not sufficiently overwhelming.
Ah, but the Mozart: what an experience!
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