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The Return of Dutoit and Lupu

Verizon Hall
02/13/2008 -  and February 15, 16, 17 & 19
Claude Debussy: Jeux – Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1
Leos Janacek: Sinfonietta

Radu Lupu (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (conductor)

Charles Dutoit returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra accompanied by pianist Radu Lupu. In a typically eclectic program, Dutoit mixed a pair of contrasting works by Claude Debussy with Leos Janacek’s Sinfonietta and a piano concerto by Beethoven. Dutoit, of course, is a familiar face on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s podium. Lupu was, too, during Riccardo Muti’s tenure as music director. The concert marks his first performance with the orchestra in almost two decades.

What audiences have missed was evident as soon as Lupu voiced the solo line in the opening movement of Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1 in C major. His playing was notable for the beauty and purity of his tone as well as for its rippling ease. Lupu remains a masterful Beethoven interpreter. It was fascinating to hear how he deftly altered his tone from one movement to the next. In the gracious Allegro con brio that opens the concerto, he coaxed a radiantly pure sound from his piano. The notes hung suspended in the air like a string of pearls. Then in the central slow movement, Lupu struck a note of gravity as he carefully weighted his tone as he etched Beethoven’s noble musical line. There were moments at the end of the movement, his tone was so warm and expressive, his piano sounded as if it were coming from another dimension. Playing with joyous abandon, Lupu lightened his touch in the finale. Throughout, the pianist received supple support from both Dutoit and the orchestra.

Lupu’s magisterial playing was greeted with an ovation. Oddly, despite the shouts from his fans in the auditorium, the pianist barely acknowledged the applause as he was called back to the stage several times.

The Philadelphia Orchestra appointed Dutoit chief conductor and artistic adviser after Christoph Eschenbach decided not to renew his contract as music director in 2006. Dutoit officially takes up his new post when Eschenbach leaves Philadelphia at the end of the current season. The Swiss maestro brings stability to the orchestra as it searches for a new music director. Dutoit has a relationship with the Philadelphians that stretches back 28 years. Although he was passed over in 1990 when it appointed Wolfgang Sawallisch to succeed Riccardo Muti, Dutoit has remained loyal to Philadelphia. He has conducted the orchestra regularly in the subscription season and has also served as music director of the summer seasons at the Mann Music Center (1990 to 1999) and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (1990 to the present). No conductor currently on the roster – not even Eschenbach – has conducted more performances in Philadelphia.

Dutoit’s program was filled with the musical contrasts he loves to exploit. To open the concert, he fashioned an elegantly transparent account of Debussy’s Jeux, a ballet score portraying a playful “game” between a boy and two girls searching for a lost tennis ball. Dutoit summoned up some shimmering sounds from the orchestra. He found an even more refined sound for Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Dutoit caught the yearning, sensual undercurrents in Debussy’s music in a restrained but elegant reading of this familiar score. The orchestra played with a luminous beauty of tone. Principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner received a solo bow for his lustrous playing.

Dutoit reveled in the explosive rhythms and blaring outbursts in Janacek’s Sinfonietta. He launched the score with crisply phrased brass fanfares and then guided his musicians through a surging performance that culminated in a blaze of firmly blended orchestral sound.

Robert Baxter



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