Ruslan and Ludmilla – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21
Daphnis et Chloé
Maria João Pires (piano)
Philadelphia Singers Chorale
Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette
Reviewed: 18 May, 2012
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
While far from the fastest, Charles Dutoit led Glinka’s familiar curtain-raiser at a tempo that conveyed whip-crack velocity with polished, cleanly articulated string-playing, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s rich sound supporting the expansive ‘big tune’ – although I was a little baffled by a couple of odd-looking cues thrown by the conductor.
The introduction to the Chopin was almost Mozartean in feel – but the work’s character changed the instant Maria João Pires entered, with phrasing that was just a notch below molto espressivo yet deeply romantic in mood without cloying sentimentality. Pires has superb control over inner voices and accompanying material, bringing forward contrapuntal and thematic details that evade even the finest of other players. The first movement’s grandeur yielded to chamber music in the other two movements; in the former, Pires’s rhapsodic and rhetorical approach took center-stage, with an outstanding contribution from bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa. It would be hard to quibble with Pires’s approach to the finale, more a mazurka than a gentle waltz, enjoying one of the warmer-sounding Carnegie Hall Steinways, which ideally suited her graceful approach.
Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel’s most-ambitious orchestral work; it was a huge success as a ballet, but like Stravinsky’s contemporaneous The Firebird it is far more frequently performed as a concert work. Dutoit’s Ravel tapings for Decca brought him a reputation as one of the composer’s most acclaimed interpreters. Among them is Daphnis, made in the earliest days of digital-recording in Montréal, which focused more on excellence of execution than mood-painting. I had no such quibbles with the present performance, from the beautiful opening bars – rarely has such hushed, slowly-unfolding music sounded as lush – through gradually mounting intensity to the first climax (with choir), which exploded with Technicolor grandeur worthy of Stokowski. And while Dutoit held a tight rein on the score’s sometimes rambling and episodic form he also adopted tempos that seemed much more spacious during the work’s first half and summoned deliciously evocative playing. The rhythmically driven sections had plenty of punch, and the glorious final tableau, beginning with ‘Sunrise’ was a notable demonstration of virtuosity – and a chance to savor the brilliant sound of flutist Jeffrey Khaner. The glowing colors and remarkable blend of the Philadelphia Singers Chorale, combining professional and very gifted amateurs, was the ideal complement.
For the past four years, Charles Dutoit has served as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Artistic Advisor and Chief Conductor following the abrupt departure of Christoph Eschenbach and the ensuing financial crisis. One would be hard-pressed to sense any level of stress within the ensemble: performances with Dutoit at Carnegie Hall have been consistently excellent. This was Dutoit’s final appearance as its top maestro (he soon assumes the title of Conductor Laureate) leaving incoming Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to inherit one of the world’s greatest orchestras.