Verizon Hall, Philadelphia
Tuesday March 24, 2009
Dutoit’s esprit de corps
Charles Dutoit, current chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, such an authoritative and relaxed presence that he brushes past any perception of organizational turmoil. He also catches the mood of the audience yearning for spring with a crowd-pleasing program of Ravel, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, that met with a completely rapturous reception. He might not have fab maestro hair, but he has dancey presence and like a good dancer, seems to move the musical molecules.
In the last performance the audience was immediately tuned to the clarity of Ravel‘s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin the players achieving more than a pristine tableau. The vistas are so beautiful in ‘Tombeau’ that it is already a beatified tone poem. The orchestra builds its looming angularity and propulsion, with a swirling sense of discovery. This work illustrates many of the subtle strengths Dutoit brings to this Orchestra.
Violin soloist Lisa Batiashvili attacked the entrance in the first movement of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto no. 2 with immediacy and lushness in the 1st movement. Still, after gorgeous quietude in the opening passages of the Andante, some of the note runs felt rote and the orchestral strings exchanging soft rather than sharp dialogues.
Otherwise, Batiasvili’s broad bowing, handed off gorgeous interlocks with the orchestra, but ultimately, the deeper chambers in this piece were never opened. Even with its tamped down quality, Batiasvili’s technical skill and obviously simpatico with Dutoit, make this an exciting partnership.
In contrast, Dutoit had no trouble annotating every aspect of the complete ballet score of Stravinsky’s Firebird. When you hear the full ballet played well, the oft-played Suite feels like a cheat to get to the crescendos. The Firebird has its own sonic mysteries, illuminated here, past its famous fanfares and flights of orchestral flute fancies.
Dutoit used organic volume effects potently, and those eerie string tremolos inducing vertigo. As with the Ravel, Dutoit displays a mastery of tempo to unearth Firebird’s deep Russian roots.
Out side of a botched horn entrance in a key moment, this Firebird was in fabulous flight. The swoops and swirls, Stravinsky’s primitive deeper ravines finely detailed. Dutoit even kept to primitive modals, for characterization. All of the soloists cameos completely virtuosic and integrated into the piece. David Kim’s lead violin was mystical and haunting, violist Kirsten Johnson’s solo imbued with tender power and Daniel Matsukawa magnificently essayed the critical bassoon solo leading to the Firebird’s epic air assault.