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Music by Technicolor

New York
Perelman Strage, Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
01/17/2013 -  
Maurice Ravel: La Valse
Karol Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 2, Opus 61
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Opus 47

Leonidas Kavakos (Violin)
Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Conductor/Musical Director)

Y. Nézet-Séguin & Philadelphia Orchestra (© Chris Lee)

That randy bandmaster Johann Strauss would have relished the two dances bookending the Philadelphia Orchestra concert last night. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin started with Maurice Ravel’s whirling distended apotheosis to La Valse, and ended with Dmitri Shostakovich’s daemonistic waltz from the Fifth Symphony second movement. Johann Junior wouldn’t have been jealous, but would have gloried that his dances had been transmogrified so deliciously.

Even better, last night the fiery, extrovert conducting by Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Nézet-Séguin gave them a special impact. The Ravel hardly kept to three-quarter time. Mr. Nézet-Séguin bravely protracted the rubati to the point where the music almost stopped–only to let loose with all guns blazing for rat-a-tat-tat follow-ups The original dancers of the Ballets Russes would have had an impossible time putting this on stage. But Mr. Nézet-Séguin was apparently delighted to hyperbolize the rhythms. And with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its best (with the most crystalline flute solo by Jeffrey Khaner), the piece was a dazzling orchestral tapestry.

To transpose the old joke, Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s Philadelphia Orchestra played the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony and conductor Nézet-Séguin was the winner. Not that this was bad Shostakovich by any means. But it was played so well, and the wonderful strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra were so beautiful in the third movement that it became a piece to (rightly) show off this orchestra.

Not that it was anything but exciting, enjoyable, and., with that kettledrum booming across the Perelman stage, honestly arousing. Had this been one of the composer’s showpieces, like the Festival Overture or even Song of the Forests, that would have been fine. The Fifth, though, was a personal statement. Mr. Nézet-Séguin produced a glorious homage to inspiration and Technicolor orchestral painting.

For an evening of resplendent orchestral colors, with all the music written within one 18-year burst, that was undoubtedly sufficient.

L. Kavakos (© Yannis Bournias)

The centerpiece, written midway between the Ravel and Shostakovich was, what could be the most sustained and greatest work of the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. This Concerto has a murmuring atmospheric opening that could have been composed by Béla Bartók. From then, the one-movement 20-minute rhapsody opened with the most expressive lines, a short but electrifying cadenza, and a finale including Polish dances, long dramatic lines and a mighty finish.

Leonidas Kavakos could have played a flashy concerto, as he showed in his last appearance here with the Korngold Violin Concerto. The Szymanowski is more subtle, not the least bit ostentatious. Mr. Kavakos’ virtuosity was obvious here, but he didn’t show off. It began with restraint, broadening into a lush tapestry (helped, doubtless, by those still lush strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra), and double-stopping in the cadenza that was electric.

By the time he came to the foot-stamping dances, Mr. Kavakos had shown a mastery–and the most gorgeous tones of his Stradivarius–that one could imagine. I only wish this work was played more frequently here. Listening to Mr. Kavakos was a thrill, but other young violinists might give another picture of this still enigmatic composer.

Harry Rolnick



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