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Seen and Heard International Concert Review


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.


Bernard Jacobson




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)