So one blinks in disbelief as the music is outfitted in neon, flashing and changing every few seconds, though ultimately settling into a sound world suggesting Elgar's Enigma Variations. To someone who subscribes to historically authentic performance practice, the transcription feels monumentally perverse, but, I suppose, worth a few giggles.
Scheherazade was also a Stoky chestnut, its sumptuous orchestration being a great showcase for the Philadelphia sound. And it still is, especially thanks to Thursday's high-personality contributions from the principal players, starting with concertmaster David Kim. As an opera conductor, Luisotti knows how to give each musical event a diva entrance, and a dramatic exit as well. Each episode was molded with effectively flexible tempos, and with a fine ear for sonority. Daniel Matsukawa's superb bassoon solo was anchored with double basses that glowed softly.
Nonetheless, I was ready for this five-star Scheherazade to be over. And I sensed that the audience, which was properly grateful, wasn't entirely buying it either. We're inured to the grander, deeper, more meticulously structured orchestral wizardry of Mahler - in contrast to Rimsky-Korsakov, who side-stepped thematic development with more superficial coloristic transformations (sort of like Ravel's Bolero only three times as long).
Between the two Stokies lay Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, a bombshell of a piece inspired by Stalinist Russia, featuring one of the piece's foremost exponents, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. This piece encourages levels of interpretive frenzy - to which she easily rises - as exhilarating Russian dances mutate into weapons of mass destruction.
Salerno-Sonnenberg's playing also had unusual discipline on Thursday. Of the four movements, the first and third brood at great length, but, in her hands, not in the same way. The first was an existential lament, as if Shostakovich was suffering for the world's sins. Salerno-Sonnenberg's restrained colors in the first movement became something more pale and exhausted in the third, suggesting Shostakovich in suicide-note mode. The fast movements were as exciting and physical as they should be. Her unflattering concert garb, however, needs revision. Could Yuja Wang please take her shopping?
8 p.m. Saturday at the Kimmel Center. 215-893-1999 or www.philorch.org.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at firstname.lastname@example.org.