With a barely perceptible gesture, Eugene Ormandy began Faure's "Pelleas and Melisande" Suite at the Kennedy Center last night, setting in motion a magical evening of music-making by the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was a program both glorious and refreshing. In addition to Faure's infrequently heard suite there was Hindemith's equally rare 1939 Violin Concerto and, in the second half, Saint-Saens' lovely "Organ" Symphony.
To all of the works the orchestra brought a particularly luminous sound, notable for its transparent clarity as well as its warmth. In the second movement of the Faure Suite, entitled "Spinning Song," the strings spun a delicate accompainment of shimmering beauty over the oboe's flowing solo. The closing "Sicilienne" glowed with a liquid flute solo of Murray Panitz.
The soloist in the Hindemith concerto was the Philadelphia's concert-master, Norman Carol, who captured the music's intimate style with exceptional sensitivity. For the soloist it seems a particularly satisfying work to play, offering one seamless melody after another and a variety of moods ranging from the playful to the introspective. Only in the second movement did Carol's response seem less than satisfying, lacking the intensity and flexibility that the meditative writing needed.
Ormandy paced the closing Saint-Saens symphony with the sure hand of a master who knows his instrument perfectly. One section melted effortlessly into another, gradually building to the final sweep of sound which unfolded with an electrifying excitement.