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Seen and Heard International Concert Review


Mozart: cond./soloist Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 14.05. 2006 (BJ)

Quietly, without assistance from any commercial recordings (though these surely must start to happen soon), a formidable musical partnership is developing in Philadelphia. Founded in 1964 by Marc Mostovoy, and initially known as the Concerto Soloists, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia now has Ignat Solzhenitsyn as its music director. In his early thirties, Solzhenitsyn was principal conductor for six years before his appointment to that position in 2004.

I have previously written sparingly about this orchestra, because I have myself been associated with it since 2001, principally as program annotator. Now that I am living on the other side of the country, and with that interest divulged, I feel more freedom to celebrate the strides it has recently made in working with Solzhenitsyn. He, I have felt ever since I heard a magisterial performance of Schubert’s posthumous B-flat-major Sonata ten years ago at the age of 23, stands alongside Leif Ove Andsnes as the most phenomenal pianistic talent to have emerged in the past decade or two, and his gifts as a conductor are scarcely less impressive.

On a visit back to Philadelphia, I was delighted to find that the orchestra has improved strikingly even in the seven months since I left town. The players themselves have always constituted a highly proficient ensemble. But partly because of a tradition of rotating seating, stemming from the group’s original “Concerto Soloists” conception, it was hard for the string section to develop a truly cohesive quality. Now Solzhenitsyn has taken the humanly tough (for those players deprived of an occasional leadership spot) but musically crucial step of organizing the string desks on a more traditional fixed basis, with Gloria Justen and Mei-Chen Liao Barnes established as concertmaster and associate concertmaster, Solomiya Ivakhiv as principal second violin, and Alexandra Leem, James Cooper, and Miles Davis as principal viola, cello, and bass. The move has already paid off, in a much more focused and unanimous style of string-playing, though obviously time is needed for the full benefit to make itself felt.

The orchestra’s current season is coming to an end with a series entitled “Ultimate Mozart.” In a welcome departure from the conventional presentation of the last three symphonies in one program, Solzhenitsyn had the idea of offering in turn the composer’s last three opera overtures, last three piano concertos, and last three symphonies, one of each to each of three programs. This results in a much more satisfying combination of musical forms at each concert, as the second program, comprising the Zauberflöte overture, the D-major Concerto, K. 537, and the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, made abundantly clear. After a beautifully-paced account of the overture, Solzhenitsyn achieved as fine a performance of the so-called “Coronation” Concerto as I have ever heard, enhanced by his own stylishly crafted cadenzas.

The G-minor Symphony, moreover, came as a wonderful solace after the travesty the work endured in a performance conducted by Roberto Abbado that I reviewed a couple of weeks earlier. The concluding stroke in Solzhenitsyn’s reading came as a particular pleasure. The second repeat in Mozart’s finale is of especial value for the extraordinarily dramatic effect of its volcanic leap from the first ending back to the aggressively disjointed beginning of the development section. When Solzhenitsyn and the orchestra played the work together two seasons ago, he did not observe that repeat on account of the difficulty posed for the players by the page-turn it required. This time, he had taken the extra trouble of reorganizing the orchestral parts so that the jump could be made. The heightening of both tension and logic that resulted was characteristic of the combined dramatic force, musical insight, and technical adroitness that make Solzhenitsyn one of the most exciting musicians of our time.



Bernard Jacobson





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