Monday, January 12, 2009

The Philadelphia Orchestra - Webern, Beethoven & Brahms - 01/11/09

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Webern: Im Sommerwind
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 - Christian Tetzlaff
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

After my first 2009 concert in Washington, it was time to branch out to... the City of Brotherly Love. One of the Big Five in the United States and a prestigious name all around the world, the Philadelphia Orchestra has been offering top-notch performances for over a century. So yesterday afternoon I invited some worthy friends of mine to the Kimmel Center in downtown Philly as I was strongly enticed by the two major musical pieces on the program. Und natürlich, the always exciting prospect of hearing Christian Tetzlaff play, in that case Beethoven's surprisingly playful violin concerto, was the final factor that made everything come together. Philadelphia's Center for the Performing Arts turned out to be a rather interesting combination of industrial drabness, overflowing luminosity and wide open spaces. Inside, the Verizon concert hall welcomed with voluptuous angles, dark wood panels, bright red velvet seats and, as we were bound to find out, wonderful acoustics. Let the music begin!

The program started with Webern's Im Sommerwind, which was, as its title indicates, a vivid evocation of the sounds that can be heard "in the summer wind." Inspired partly by a summer spent at his family's country estate, partly by a Bruno Wille's poem, it was both earthy and ethereal, and contained some lovely romantic passages. A nice way to start a January afternoon concert.
Next was the main reason for our presence there and then, Beethoven's violin concerto whose sheer loveliness never ceases to amaze me. The long, majestic first movement, in which the violin makes a late but grand entrance (now that's what I call fashionably late), was soaring beautifully, followed by a Larghetto that shone with delicate serenity until the Rondo cheered things up with an upbeat mood, finally turning the musician loose so he could end the piece on an triumphant note. The orchestra proved to be a solid and responsive partner to our soloist, who not only treated us to a remarkably precise performance, but who also played his own arrangements for the cadenzas, allowing for a really neat dialogue with the percussionist.
After an intermission during which part of the audience was rambunctiously delighted by the opportunity to catch some football updates on TV screens near the concert hall entrance (?!), we were back in for Brahms' magnificently troubled fourth symphony. Yes, it is for sure on the stern side and ends up in tragedy, but it nevertheless takes the listener on a memorable journey. While the mood is generally sober, even dark, some lighter melodies and the occasional warm feeling are present as well. The orchestra easily conveyed all the required intensity without neglecting the sunnier passages for a tight, heart-felt, and very rewarding performance.

This little foray in The United States' original capital turned out to be a big success, and we even managed to accidentally drive right between Independence Hall and Liberty Bell on our way out of the city, thereby adding a historical component to our cultural mission. We shall return.

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