At The Mann, Orchestra Returns To Central Role

Posted: July 18, 1998

Subtle colors were the point of Charles Dutoit's concert Thursday with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Center. After a program Monday with Canadian Brass, it was good to hear the orchestra sounding as it should, playing its central role in the concert.

Dutoit's program included two piano works transformed for orchestra, music doubly challenging because the orchestra has to find the soul of the original in the guise of the later version. That worked best in Debussy's Children's Corner, the orchestral shimmers and pastels created by Andre Caplet. The lightness of that instrumental style enhances the playfulness of the music itself. In it, the wind soloists, the violins and low strings all found means to catch the air of innocence and the satiric postures in the final number, ``Golliwogs Cakewalk.''

Violinist Kyoko Takezawa returned as soloist, playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with her accustomed and compelling intensity. In the murky air and high humidity, transparency of sound is hard to transmit, but her playing was so accurate and so fully considered that the work took on an accumulating nobility. The middle movement, where musicianship matters more than facility, was the place for her to find a range of sound to present the duality of the writing. Songful, but probing, too, the music moved on those levels through the gradations of weight and vibrato in her playing.

Dutoit had begun with arrangements of two sections of Albeniz's Iberia, and closed with an exuberant reading of Respighi's Pini di Roma. The Albeniz music seemed pale and listless in the heavy air. The Respighi fared better in the outdoors, where its substance supported the individual players who played strong roles.

Dutoit developed the finale, with its irresistible rhythms and added brass flourishes, to be the satisfying concert closer that it is.

* Old Vienna has threatened to become the legendary city of kitsch that materializes only on New Year's. Brushing aside that threat, conductor David Alan Miller brought Vienna to life Wednesday when he led the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Center. With soprano Benita Valente to give words to the sentiment and substance of Vienna's musical past, the program encompassed Mozart and Korngold, seriousness and sentimental beauty.

It was Miller's debut with the orchestra. Music director of the Albany Symphony, he is one of the young conductors whom artistic director Charles Dutoit has cast as saviors of a summer music series trying to redefine itself and its audience. Miller proved a jaunty speaker who introduced his pieces with quick wit.

Valente sang Marietta's scene from Korngold's Die tote Stadt. Because the opera does not reach the stage often, the aria invariably catches an audience by surprise. Valente sang its meditative line with a mix of sentiment and haunted wonder, just the qualities to float above the orchestra's translucence and complete the magical feeling the music creates.

She preceded that aria with Mahler's ``Liebst du um Schoenheit,'' articulating the text of overflowing love. Those two pieces constituted the best of her singing, expressive, graceful, finely shaped and balanced.

In the first half, she sang the Countess' aria from Le nozze di Figaro and an artful reading of ``Vilja'' from The Merry Widow.

Miller, not neglecting Johann Strauss while trying to show the range of ``Old Vienna,'' led the Champagne Polka with its rollicking cork popping, the Overture to Die Fledermaus, and The Blue Danube. In between were the Overture to Le nozze di Figaro, Beethoven's Egmont Overture, ballet music from Schubert's Rosamunde, and two of Brahms' Hungarian Rhapsodies. His informative spoken program notes kept the feeling light, and quickly broke down the barrier between musicians and listeners.

THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA Charles Dutoit and David Alan Miller, conducting; Benita Valente, soprano, and Kyoko Takezawa, violin soloist. Performed Wednesday and Thursday at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

Additional performances: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with Dutoit and other soloists at the Mann Center, near 52d Street and Parkside Ave. Tickets are $20 to $33.50. Information: 215-878-7707.

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