Valses nobles et sentimentales
Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat, Op.10
Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, Op.35
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Martha Argerich (piano)
David Bilger (trumpet)
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 7 October, 2008
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Charles Dutoit has been associated with the Philadelphia Orchestra for many years – as a guest conductor, as the artistic director and principal conductor of the orchestra’s summer festivals at Saratoga Springs and at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, and he has led the orchestra in a series of recordings. This concert marked his first Carnegie Hall appearance in his new position as Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor, while the search for the next Music Director continues.
The rapport between orchestra and conductor was obvious from the very start, a ravishing account of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales. Whereas this summer in Salzburg with the Vienna Philharmonic Pierre Boulez stressed Ravel’s modernistic elements, striving for clarity and emphasizing every dissonance, Dutoit revelled in the sensuality of the score, taking full advantage of the many colors this orchestra’s string section is capable of, as well as unleashing the lushness of what used to be called “The Philadelphia Sound”.
At the other end of the program, Mussorgksy’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the familiar Ravel orchestration, he similarly explored the coloristic elements of the music rather than looking to plumb its depths. It was a fairly straightforward reading, showing off the orchestra’s astonishing virtuosity in all sections, the woodwinds in ‘Tuileries’ and ‘Ballet of the Chicks’, the strings in ‘Limoges’, the low brass in ‘Catacombs’ and outstanding tuba and trumpet solos in ‘Bydlo’ and ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’, all culminating in a majestic ‘Great Gate of Kiev’.
The centerpiece of the evening, however, was a much-anticipated appearance by Martha Argerich, who had cancelled concerts with Dutoit and the New York Philharmonic last season. Married from 1969 to 1973, they still maintain a close artistic relationship, providing for a level of easy rapport and interplay between soloist and conductor one rarely experiences. Argerich has a tendency to want to outrun the orchestra at times, but Dutoit tracked her every attempt, staying tightly with her. Her technical facility never ceases to astonish the listener, tossing off the fastest passages with ease, and producing an astonishing volume in big tuttis without harshness.
But her playing is not all about virtuosity, she also brought out the different characters of these two composers’ first efforts in the genre with exquisite control of color and touch. Her interplay with the orchestra’s wonderful principal trumpet David Bilger in the Shostakovich, especially in the slow movement, made for some deeply touching moments. The lengthy ovation and several curtain calls after each concerto were well deserved.