Seen and Heard International
Martinu, Klein, Shostakovich, and Bartók:
Vadim Repin, Philadelphia Orchestra, Christoph Eschenbach, Verizon
Hall, Philadelphia, 5 May 2005 (BJ)
This was a splendid concert, but it was also more than that. With
the exception of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, which
received a superb interpretation from the young Russian soloist
Vadim Repin, the program, which was recorded live, is destined
to form the probable first release under the auspices of the Philadelphia
Orchestra’s new three-year recording partnership with the
Finnish label Ondine, announced earlier in the week.
Ondine is a good choice for such a project, for under the direction
of Reijo Kiilunen, who founded the company in 1985, the label
has won a deserved reputation for exceptional recording quality
and enterprising though uneccentric artistic planning, besides
enjoying excellent distribution arrangements around the world.
More to the point, perhaps, at a time when none of the other “Big
Five” American orchestras has a steady relationship with
a record company, is the innovative nature of this justly named
“partnership.” Several orchestras have gone into the
business of originating and managing their own recording programs.
Others have explored tentative but rarely very successful arrangements
with outside companies. Now that its players have shown a refreshing
sense of realism by agreeing to record without additional fee
and to receive only royalties, what Philadelphia now seems to
have landed is a deal that combines the best of all the variants.
The orchestra will be full owner of its recordings, but the job
of marketing and distributing the results will be in the hands
of a proven label; and decisions about what to release will be
made through a process of close co-operation between the two sides.
After the initial coupling of Martinu’s Memorial to
Lidice, a Partita for Strings arranged by Vojtech Saudek
from the String Trio by the concentration-camp victim Gideon Klein,
and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, the first year’s
releases will probably include Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony
(supplemented by movements from the composer’s piano suite
The Seasons, constituting Eschenbach’s first solo-piano
recording in 30 years), and a group of Mahler symphonies to be
recorded on the orchestra’s forthcoming Asian tour.
All three of those first-named works (related,
as Eschenbach pointed out at a press conference, by their origins
under or in flight from Nazism) were played will tigerish intensity
and unblemished technical skill by an orchestra that clearly relishes
its new opportunity. Eschenbach’s Bartók Concerto
was, as one might have predicted, a no-holds-barred affair, richly
toned throughout its kaleidoscopically varied textures, and projected
with tingling rhythmic impulse. In the fourth movement, the conductor
stressed the bi-polar nature of Bartók’s inspiration
by daring extremes of tempo, slow for the wistful inward-looking
lyrical theme, recklessly fast for the zany interruptions that
make mock of it. But that is to single out just one example of
an interpretative acuity that illuminated the whole of this sometimes
underrated yet inexhaustibly fascinating work.
Given the relatively copious bronchial contributions of the Philadelphia
audience at this first of the program’s four performances
– despite a polite admonition beforehand about coughing
from orchestra cellist John Koen, who has been at the forefront
of the negotiations that produced the current labor contract and
the new recording agreement – it is reassuring to know that
the players have shown their commitment to the project by agreeing
to double patching sessions for all the recordings. Experience
suggests that the public in Japan is likely to be quieter; but
it is still good, in a general context that preserves the excitement
factor inseparable from live recording, to have that safety net
ready in case of need.