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S & H International Concert Review

Boulez, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Orchestra de Paris, Théâtre Mogador, Sept. 21, 2002 (FC)


The Orchestre de Paris is fully installed in their new temporary three year home at the old music hall, the Théâtre Mogador. Quitting their address of 20 years, the Salle Pleyel, they have taken up temporary quarters in this downtown location which is near the old Opéra, the Palais Garnier. The first regular pair of concerts in their new season featured megastar covergirl violin virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter (as of July, Mrs. Andre Previn) playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Music Director, Christoph Eschenbach, on the podium.

The performance of the concerto sent me back to my childhood, growing up in the suburbs of California. The Easter ritual at my house was to be served slices of the traditional honey-glazed ham, the centerpiece of the table. This was a large, watery, tasteless lump of pork that had been cooking for days and was completely besotted with a thick crust of dripping, gooey honey. The unavailability of such American haute cuisine in France is one of the reasons I find this country so agreeable.

When Miss Mutter launched herself at this concerto, it seemed to me that I was being served "honey-glazed" Tchaikovsky. She played as if from the Eugène Ysaÿe School of

Violin Playing, i. e. "leave no phrase underwrought." I was wondering if the theater should have posted signs warning diabetics about this performance. This style of playing is not at all Eschenbach’s musical esthetic and you could see he was having trouble slowing the tempo down enough to accommodate Miss Mutter’s lumbering gait. Like the Odd Couple, Eschenbach was compelled to play the tidy Felix to Miss Mutter’s unkempt Oscar. The ovation at the end was, of course, enormous, and as an encore, she played Bach in the same fashion.

The opening work was a six minute opus of Pierre Boulez from 1999, "Notation VII." To say that this is for "large orchestra" is an understatement. The rather expansive stage area at the newly refigured Mogador was chock-full of musicians. There were three harps, for instance, which I confess not to remember hearing. It failed to make a strong impression although played with obvious intensity.

Eschenbach was back after intermission with the most-often programmed of all of Prokofiev’s symphonies, the Fifth. He was free of partners here and delivered his usual crackling, exciting reading. Eschenbach has a fine ear for line and detail and the orchestra responded with alert, virtuoso playing.

About the acoustics, the first impressions of this concert and the earlier one on September 18 is that there is an overall rich and warm sound for the orchestra and soloists. This is welcome news because an often-heard complaint is that the two halls where most orchestras appear, Salle Pleyel, scheduled for refurbishing, and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, have acoustics on the dry side. To my ears, however, there is a bit too much reverberation and this makes the luxuriant sound become a bit blurry, particularly in the tutti passages.

The fan shape of the hall means that all of the 1800 seats are close to the stage and the reconfiguration has pushed the orchestra further out in the hall, occupying the space over the pit in the old theater. Half or more of the musicians on stage are in front of the proscenium. Some of the fortissimo passages in the symphony could likely exceed those new and infamous European Union sound level limits, both for the players and the audience. There is a performance at the Mogador of the Berlioz "Te Deum" next month that could cause light bulbs to burst.

Frank Cadenhead

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