Orchestra, pianist on parallel paths Luckily, they rejoined forces before Andr Watts hit the Rachmaninoff concerto's 2d movement.

Posted: July 23, 2007

You're playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 for the 1,473d time. How can you keep the music alive and fresh - with that just-composed feeling?

One way, pianist Andr Watts and the Philadelphia Orchestra showed Friday night at the Mann, is for soloist and orchestra to lose contact with each other and end up at an important arrival point at different times.

It's a rare thing to hear in a big, professional orchestra, but it happens, and when it happens it's a harrowing moment. As a listener you find yourself wondering how they will ever find each other again.

It's no use assessing blame. Rossen Milanov was on the podium, and he at least got the first movement back on track after a few bars. Or was it Watts who finally listened to what was going on around him and adjusted?

In a way, the mishap seemed inevitable. From the first moments of the work, Watts seemed unable or unwilling to listen to the orchestra and relate his playing to theirs. These were two characters leading parallel, simultaneous lives. Until they weren't.

When I said this was a Rachmaninoff concerto that was alive and fresh, I meant it sincerely. Somehow, after the first-movement incident, the ensemble coalesced, while Watts kept the volatility and poetry we like so much in his playing. Individuality is still a dear commodity, and I find no trouble looking past pianistic sloppiness for more interesting rewards.

Like a few other recent Milanov performances, the Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade that made up the other half of this program did not carry a strong personal imprint. It distinctly lacked the narrative Charles Dutoit gave it with the orchestra this past season. What it did have were some spectacular instrumental solos.

Most significant, it might have been the night that principal hornist Jennifer Montone took full ownership of her title. With absolute solidity and great richness, her solos were among the best horn playing I've heard from this orchestra. Juliette Kang, the orchestra's first associate concertmaster, was pleasantly feisty in her solos.

Bassoonist Mark Gigliotti and oboist Peter Smith were both embodiments of an important, if sometimes overlooked, orchestra tradition of woodwind refinement, highlighting a great benefit of these summer concerts: learning how wonderful some of the orchestra's non-principal players are when given a chance to step into principal parts.

Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/artswatch.

comments powered by Disqus