Philadelphia Orchestra/Dutoit at Carnegie Hall – Frank Martin & Bartók – James Ehnes plays Mendelssohn

Frank Martin
Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Concerto for Orchestra

Jeffrey Khaner (flute), Richard Woodhouse (oboe), Ricardo Morales (clarinet), Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), Jennifer Montone (horn), David Bilger (trumpet), Nitzan Haruz (trombone)


Philadelphia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette

Reviewed: 14 February, 2012
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Charles DutoitConcerto for Seven Wind Instruments (1949) by Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974) proved a serviceable vehicle to showcase the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal-desk wind-players and its amazing string section. The first movement, despite its plethora of thematic and motivic material, is one of the composer’s weakest, although it does luxuriate in energy and conversation. Conversely, the second – slow yet propelled by an ostinato – is one of Martin’s most-inspired creations, and was beautifully played. There was vivace aplenty in the finale, with brass soloists attempting to impose almost-military motifs on the 3/4 time signature amidst piquant, wry resistance from the woodwinds. There’s an almost jazz-turned-upside-down, ‘call-and-retort’ quality to portions of the movement, emphatically brought to the fore by Charles Dutoit.

James Ehnes. Photograph: Benjamin EalovegaI have a number of aesthetic quibbles with James Ehnes’s approach to Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto, particularly his downplaying of the work’s lyrical character in favor of framing it as a high-octane virtuoso vehicle that sounded at times more like Paganini. I was impressed, however, by the way he backed up his strongly opinionated approach with sterling execution. Ehnes’s hard-pressed approach to the first movement permitted almost no repose, though one could not have been unimpressed by his secure intonation, brilliant tone, and exhilarating fast passagework. The second movement was too rushed and not quite cantabile enough, more a verismo aria than a German Lied. The finale though had more than its share of exciting moments: Ehnes’s abundantly debonair and at turns devil-may-care approach was completely satisfying, and he found a particularly pleasing balance between song-like sonority and rhythmic drive in the second theme. Dutoit encouraged playing from the Orchestra that complemented Ehnes’s impressive playing who followed up with an entertainingly executed encore: ‘real’ Paganini this time, Caprice in G minor.

I’ve previously seen Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, albeit not together – Dutoit a few seasons back with the Verbier Festival Orchestra, and the Philadelphians three decades ago under Eugene Ormandy. With Dutoit, both the ‘Giuoco delle coppie’ and ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ were taken slightly slower than their metronome markings. The sound was lush, with rich and nuanced string phrasing making a particular impression, yet never sacrificing rhythmic bite, particularly in the outer movements. Solo and ensemble passages were played with a potent combination of technical excellence and characterful panache. I doubt that I’ll hear a performance of this masterpiece as impressive as this one. Hopefully incoming music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will enjoy a rapport with the Philadelphia Orchestra to rival Dutoit’s satisfying partnership with it as Artistic Advisor and Chief Conductor.

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