Philadelphia Orchestra/Dutoit in New York

Bartók
The Miraculous Mandarin – Suite
Debussy
Nocturnes [Nuages – Fêtes – Sirènes]
Holst
The Planets, Op.32 – Suite for large orchestra

Women of the Philadelphia Singers Chorale

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit


Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 14 March, 2008
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Charles DutoitFor almost twenty years Charles Dutoit has been closely associated with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the summer season at Saratoga Springs since 1990, he will begin his tenure as the Orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser in September of 2008 while the search for a Music Director to succeed Christoph Eschenbach continues. When the chemistry is right, there is much to be said for such lengthy associations. The rehearsal process can begin at a much more intimate level, and there is a directness of communication and a rapport between musicians and conductor that transmits itself to an audience.

Dutoit is at his best in music with extra-musical associations, and here he brought three such works. From the first notes of the energetic string figuration, every nuance of Bartók’s colorful expressionistic language in The Miraculous Mandarin was explored, including outstanding clarinet-solos from Ricardo Morales. When the Mandarin finally enters, Dutoit unleashed the full power of this magnificent orchestra in an orgy of primitivism and eroticism.

By contrast, the Debussy was a paradigm of sensuality and transparency. Hailing from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Dutoit seems to have a special affinity for French repertoire, imparting a delicacy of playing light-years removed from the driven sounds of Bartók. ‘Clouds’ floated, ‘Festivals’ sparkled, and the Sirens of the Philadelphia Singers Chorale added their part to suggest a completely different world.

They also added celestial floating vowels to ‘Neptune, the Mystic’, the last movement of Holst’s The Planets. Again Dutoit proved that he could match the orchestra’s sound to the composition, eliciting a ‘British’ rich string quality in the middle section of ‘Jupiter’. ‘Venus, the Bringer of Peace’ and ‘Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age’ were both properly atmospheric, while the orchestra revelled in the virtuosity needed for ‘Mercury, the Winged Messenger’ and ‘Uranus, the Magician’. Dutoit had begun with a slightly slow and heavy rendition of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ which, rather than suggesting the “stupidity of war” as Holst had expressed it on one occasion, took on an extremely menacing character. Once again one missed a pipe organ in Stern Auditorium to truly get the full impact of this movement. This will be even more of an issue for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s next visit in May, when Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (‘Symphony of a Thousand’) is on the program!

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