Beethoven, Liszt, Respighi
In Philadelphia for a day, I popped into a Philadelphia Orchestra rehearsal led by guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. Although I recognized this as a rehearsal and not a concert, it gave me a chance to hear how my hometown orchestra sounds these days, as well as to test out the acoustics of the hall from a new vantage point. As for the former, the Philadelphians are back in form; as for the latter, I remain unconvinced. I’ve tried the parterre before, as well as the lower boxes; today I tried the first row of the center balcony (which juts out from the upper balcony, so the sound does not get trapped). The sound indeed came out pure, but still distant – something about this hall makes the Orchestra sound like it is playing behind a scrim or screen. It’s an attractive new hall, but the acoustics do not work.
The program opened with the King Stephen Overture by Beethoven, a work that the Orchestra indicated it was unfamiliar with and which almost none of the members had played before. This may account for the tentativeness with which they approached the piece, with only the reeds appearing to grasp the Beethovenian idiom. However, Frühbeck proved able, and the Orchestra warmed throughout.
Beethoven’s charming Eighth Symphony gets overlooked between its two popular neighbors. Nevertheless, Beethoven still wrote it, and Frühbeck got the Orchestra to capture Beethoven’s typical drama, augmented by the Philadelphians’ famous lush stringwork. This work proved the highlight of the concert (or at least the rehearsal).
The young and dashing French pianist Lise de la Salle joined the Orchestra for the Liszt Second Piano Concerto, another piece showing off a composer in his typical idiom. She instantly developed a good rapport with the Orchestra, and established a dialogue. The Orchestra held back maybe a little too much, but at the end they went back and rehearsed a few sections she had flagged, when the Orchestra realized it could pronounce its lines without overwhelming her energetic playing.
Respighi’s Pini di Roma rounded off the program. A warhorse in everyone’s music collection and a favorite over the radio, this piece is actually quite rarely performed (from my observation at least). The Orchestra performed it with gusto. Clearly they knew this one.