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Seen and Heard International Concert Review

Hindemith, Tchaikovsky, & Beethoven: David Kim, Philadelphia Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, 18 February 2005 (BJ)


Just a week after Leonidas Kavakos’s memorable Beethoven, another fine performance of a celebrated violin concerto was the highlight of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s next set of subscription concerts. This time the work was by Tchaikovsky and the soloist was David Kim, the orchestra’s own concertmaster, who has occupied that post since 1999. His tone, if not quite as opulent as Kavakos’s, was at once amply full and unusually pure, his expression in the slow movement sweet, and his stylistic command in this popular romantic warhorse of a concerto total. In particular, at points in the finale where highly regarded star violinists are inclined to clip the rhythm in damaging fashion, Kim was impressively steady and consequently much more persuasive.


The concert had begun with some fine playing from both the orchestra’s strings and its brass section in Hindemith’s exhilarating Concert Music for those two groups. Under Wolfgang Sawallisch’s leadership, the Tchaikovsky concerto too featured some fine orchestral solos, especially from the woodwinds. Where the big tuttis in this work were concerned, however, some of the causes of my persistent dissatisfaction with Sawallisch’s conducting began to reemerge: when, for instance, the orchestra was required to play a series of eight loud punctuating chords in succession, each of those chords was played with exactly the same degree of force – there was never a sense that the music was going in any purposeful direction, it just sat where it was.


This and similar evidences of sameness elsewhere may, of course, have been the result of deliberate interpretative choice on the conductor’s part. But I am inclined to think they stem from his tendency not to think much about the need, within any work, to balance unity with the seemingly contradictory yet eminently reconcilable demands of variety. This disregard of the need for contrast is liable also to affect his pacing of successive movements. Certainly the performance of Beethoven’s First Symphony that concluded the concert could only have satisfied a listener who likes to hear an Allegro con brio, an Andante cantabile con moto, and an Allegro molto e vivace all sound much the same in pace. I recall a performance Sawallisch conducted many years ago in London of the Brahms German Requiem in which every single movement was taken at the same speed. This Beethoven was not quite so extreme a case – there was some relaxation of tempo for the trio section of the third movement, and the finale did bring a refreshing change of pace. But in terms of needful variety, those initiatives came as too little too late, for by that time the practically identical pulses the conductor had set for the first movement’s half-note beats, the eighth-notes of the Andante, and the whole bars of the minuet had cast a pall of sameness over an orchestral performance that was in other respects highly accomplished and often expressively convivial.


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)