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Lustreless Performance from Dutoit and the Philadelphia

Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay, Joliette
07/22/2011 -  
Sergueï Prokofiev: Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64
Sergueï Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

The Philadelphia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit (Conductor)

(© C. Alonso/Courtesy of F. de L.)

This past weekend Charles Dutoit conducted in Quebec for the first time since his bitter departure from the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) in 2002. He returned not to Montreal, but to the Festival de Lanaudière as Chief Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Montreal’s new musical flame, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will become music director of the orchestra in 2012. I attended the first of two concerts given during the weekend which contained two works written by Russians in exile within five years of each other.

For the first, Dutoit chose eight excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet which successfully synthesize the essential elements of Shakespeare’s drama. Unfortunately, drama was the critical ingredient missing from Friday night’s performance. As to be expected from an orchestra of this calibre, they played well—most notes in place, dynamic markings respected, solos rendered faultlessly, different moods evoked convincingly (especially the nocturnal hush of the balcony scene and the tightly executed death scene of Tybalt). But where was the passion, the tension? The orchestra seemed to be on autopilot. There was little interaction between Dutoit and orchestra. Missing were the sheen of the strings, the warmth of the winds and the finesse of the percussion, all of which resulted in tepid applause from the audience of about 5000.

During the second half of the concert one had to wonder if the works were chosen for their progressive loudness. Rather than just beating time as in the Prokofiev, Dutoit put more energy into Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The first movement contained exceptional momentum and drive, the second a mood of Slavic enchantment and the third a delightful whirlwind conclusion.

Quebec audiences have heard electrifying performances of Ravel’s La Valse from Dutoit and the OSM, which was one of their signature pieces. Friday night’s performance was correct but perfunctory; it did not leave me breathless.

One would have expected a quieter work as the encore, but alas it’s noise that gets audiences to their feet. So the orchestra concluded with “The Hungarian March” from Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust.

Earl Arthur Love



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