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Mozart Clarity, Brahms’ Grandeur

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia
02/25/2012 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Serenade in D Major "Serenata notturna", K. 239 – Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No.1 in C Minor, op. 68

Emanuel Ax (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (conductor)

R. Frühbeck de Burgos (© Steve J. Sherman)

Emanuel Ax was the marquee attraction for the program of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but what always brings a sense of musical occasion is when Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is back on the podium. He began the first of two weeks of programming on a very high note with pretty standard fare, Mozart and Brahms, but signature lithe accents. It is also another sublime example that protean Fab Phil strings are indelibly back.

The inner chamber encircling the maestro-violinists David Kim and Kimberly Fisher, Kirsten Johnson viola and Michael Shahan, double bass, proved a powerhouse on Mozart’s Serenata notturna. De Burgos stressing the decorations; the vaulted and silky Kim and Fisher supple in the baroque inlays, instructive to the period, though not overdone, they are electric with the steel spine of Johnson. The scaled down supporting players in the scaled orchestra, a razor clean timepiece. Don S. Luizzi recalibrating some of the authentic sound on timpani.

Emanuel Ax entered to a warm reception and his deportment was one of just another player, he seemed immediately involved with the bounce of the opening of Mozart’s Concerto no. 25, immediately reflexive to the rest of the orchestra, his entrance stating his laser clarity and synergy with the players. He was most impressive in the translucent orchestral interlocks. A bit rote on some of the more difficult solo sections, even a flub or two indicating drifting focus but regained robustly in the allegretto. Ax spikes his sound through Verizon where piano clarity can sometimes vanish in a wormhole. The seasoned playing was not lost on this audience who wouldn’t stop applauding until it coaxed Ax back out for a sterling rendition of Chopin’s Mazurka in C Major, Op. 24, No. 2.

But the stunner of the evening from start to finish was Brahms’ Symphony no. 1, charged from the beginning but not overwrought in the romanticism which can just bury Brahms symphonies. In the second movement, the horns and woodwinds, were detailing and lustrous at several points. The orchestral cross streams were so cleanly delineated; the woodwinds just kept adding inner contours that sharpen the dimension and immediacy of a huge and familiar symphonic piece, the inestimable Jennifer Montone on French horn with such exquisite overlays, with principal flute Jeffrey Khraner and clarinet David Woodhams with floating mercury.

De Burgos is an obvious champion of the lower strings and most impressive was the detailing in the accumulating drama in the last two movements, de Burgos does not rely on the famous wavy orchestral hook of Brahms to ride it out to a climax. This weekend, de Burgos conducts a program of Spanish music capped off with virtuoso Pepe Romero playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and excerpts from Palomo’s Andalusian Nocturnes.

Lewis Whittington



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