Lyadov, Korngold, Tschaikowsky
A trip to the United States would not feel complete without checking the calendar of the Philadelphia Orchestra, by far the finest orchestra in the land. The only negative is the Orchestra’s less-than-ideal concert hall in the Kimmel Center, which looks pretty enough on the inside but has somewhat dull acoustics. The sound is clear enough (and with this orchestra, that is fantastic), but having heard this orchestra perform elsewhere I know full well how much better the orchestra can sound in a brighter hall.
Specifically, tonight’s program included Tschaikowsky‘s Fifth Symphony. I heard this orchestra perform this symphony in Dresden’s Semper Opera House in 2015, an orgasmic performance that has made me completely avoid listening to this symphony again ever since. Tonight’s version had all of the orchestral nuance of that 2015 performance, but with a damper fully in place. Despite that, the Orchestra made the large moments sound almost delicate while stamping authority and conviction on the quieter bars. This suitably complex retelling of a warhorse symphony culminated in a brash march that practically swung side-to-side rather than relentlessly forward, a happy triumph (even if leaving me less emotionally exhausted than I was after hearing the Philadelphians perform it in Dresden two years ago).
Where this orchestra continues to excel is in its ability to take a group of virtuosi, each instrumentalist amazing the audience in skill, and join them together into a whole that is still substantially more than the sum of these not insubstantial parts. No other orchestra in the United States accomplishes this so consistently (if at all) right now.
The talent came on show right away in the concert’s opening selection, Kikimora by Anatol Lyadov. This short tone poem begins mysteriously in the low strings, and includes fine lines for assorted winds, each more sumptuous than the next.
The middle piece on the program, Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s Violin Concerto, practically echoed the Lyadov in its middle movement (an unexpected link between these two seemingly unrelated works). The outer movements were more ostentatious, the solo lines (provided tonight by Renaud Capuçon, whose warm tone also got swallowed up by the hall’s poor acoustics) well supported by an orchestra which matched – if not exceeded – the soloist in talent. In reality, the star of this concerto tonight was not Capuçon but rather the Orchestra.
The Orchestra’s young Conductor-in-Residence, Cristian Măcelaru, sprung in on short notice when scheduled conductor Tugan Sokhiev had to withdraw for medical reasons. Măcelaru kept Sokhiev’s original program, and dextrously led the orchestra through it.