Conductor, Soloist In Thrilling Collaboration

Posted: June 27, 1998

Leila Josefowicz closed what turned out to be a remarkable week for young violinists at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. The 20-year-old was soloist Thursday with the Philadelphia Orchestra, following by three nights the performance of 17-year-old Hilary Hahn.

Age is not the point here, but rather the maturity and intense involvement of these two musicians. Josefowicz, with conductor Ivan Fischer her perceptive collaborator, argued for the lyrical eloquence of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2. The piece is shaped to leave listeners with the impression of a fevered soloist slashing at the chords that make up the theme of the last movement. Josefowicz can slash with the best, but her playing made that last movement seem more an extension of the long song of the middle movement and of the mood of haunted beauty that she had created from the beginning.

She uncovered qualities that sometimes touched irony, but more often grew from her eager but refined development of the songs that work their way through the music. Her approach deflected attention from her virtuosic left hand. Her ability to articulate the piece's thorny interior was notable, but it was the variety of sound and the coherence of her performance that made it important.

Fischer kept the orchestra close in sound and energy to complete this picture of dedicated and celebratory playing.

The Schubert symphony, which seemed overambitious for a hot night, showed instead Fischer's gift for finding the way between delicacy and the immense dimensions of the work. He kept the orchestra moving lightly, building sonic weights within the broad scheme of balances he enforced. The form proved almost palpable as he exulted in the songfulness of the music.

On Wednesday, conductor Emil de Cou, 41, made his debut fitting the template of today's pops conductor. Affable, outgoing, De Cou ran to the podium, seized the microphone, and introduced each of his Spanish or Spanish-flavored works.

This is part of the new pops-friendliness at the Mann Center, and his performance was answered by audience enthusiasm. His program offered color and energy in familiar pieces. If the readings did not search deeply, they did celebrate their color and theatricality.

Guitarist Pepe Romero brought back that most popular orchestral piece, Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, playing with lively articulation and lyricism. The middle movement, in which the music hangs like a dark sun in the sky, did not make the impression it might have. The orchestra's role seemed a little hurried and facile. The outer movements, in which the soloist made agility high virtue, matched his virtuosity with the rhythmic vitality in the ensemble.

In arranged selections from Ernesto Lecuona's Andalucia, the orchestra moved fluidly with the shifts in tempo and phrasing De Cou undertook. The playing was broadly imagined and sometimes roughly realized, but the flood of color Morton Gould had written into these arrangements made them intriguing.

In three dances from Falla's Three-Cornered Hat, Chabrier's Espana and Ravel's Bolero, De Cou led flexible and enthusiastic readings apt for an easy summer night.

THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA Ivan Fischer and Emil de Cou, conducting; Pepe Romero, guitar; Leila Josefowicz, violin soloist. Presented by Mann Center for the Performing Arts. Performed Wednesday and Thursday at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts. No additional performances.

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