Editor: Marc Bridle
Len Mullenger: Len@musicweb-international.com
& H International Concert Review
Dvorak, Stravinsky, Orchestre National
de France, Paris, January 8, 2004 (FC)
Berlioz’ 200th birthday party still ringing
in our heads, programming begins to remind
music lovers that 2004 is the centenary of
the death of Antonin Dvorak. Only 8 days into
the New Year, his Cello Concerto received
a particularly intense and memorable performance
at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.
The excellent young French cellist, Xavier
Phillips, has recently enjoyed attention-getting
appearances with the National Symphony in
Washington D. C. and the New York Philharmonic
conducted by one of his mentors, Mstislav
Rostropovitch. He was here accompanied by
the Romanian conductor, Ion Marin.
Phillips has an ability to communicate with
his instrument and the oft-heard Concerto
took on a new immediacy and freshness. Always
attentive to structure and dynamics, he let
the work unfold with an attractive inevitability.
He is a real talent to watch. He coaxed warm,
moody sounds from his instrument, a 1710 Goffriller,
whose mention in the program was a few paragraphs
longer than that of its owner. The conductor,
not as attentive to balances, charged along
with a full head of steam and sometimes trod
on the notes of the soloist.
Marin started the evening with a rousing performance
of Camille Saint-Saëns‚ tuneful but rarely
programmed Orient et Occident, Opus
25. An enjoyable confection, it features a
fugal-like allegro finale with real spirit.
This engaging work makes one wonder what other
important works by this composer remain unjustly
on the shelf.
Stravinsky’s 1911 concert version of the ballet
Petrushka comprised the second half
of the evening. Here the young and wilful
Ion Marin dashed off an impetuous performance
full of excitement but strikingly different
from what many of his podium colleagues would
have the courage to do. The composer’s own
recordings of his most popular works, dating
from the 1960s, set a standard of interpretation
which held these up as Twentieth Century works,
to be played cleanly and analytically. Very
few conductors since then, Bernstein being
an exception, dared to play these works with
any sort of Romantic dash or fervor. You expect
to hear the interplay of voices and the dazzle
of his instrumental arc in the x-ray performances
common in the concert hall today.
But Marin kept his eyes squarely on the big
musical gestures and ripe Romantic melodies
that still overlay this crowd-pleasing work.
Secondary voices and the subtle balances between
instruments were largely ignored in a headlong
rush to paint this ballet in broad brushstrokes.
Grumpy critics might miss the detail and finesse
but the audience loved it. The orchestra seemed
to be having a fine time too, banging and
tooting away with all their might. This propulsive
reading was seductive with all its energy
and even the frigid night air was a bit warmer
when exiting the theater.
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