Horacio Gutierrez is a large man, and the Second Piano Concerto by Prokofiev is a large work. Last night the two were well met on the Philadelphia Orchestra program in the Kennedy Center.
With James Conlon as guest conductor, the orchestra's savage thunders were beautifully balanced by the sensuous sounds that appear early in the first movement and recur at welcome intervals. While the bond between Sergei Rachmaninoff and the Philadelphians was closer than any between the younger Prokofiev and the great orchestra, it is easy to imagine the latter's delight in the magnificent playing his music received last night.
Gutierrez was as at home in the music as his colleagues who joined him in the finest tearwork. On a piano that was particularly brilliantly voiced to project the music through the heaviest orchestral background, the Cuban-born pianist delivered the concerto in fullest measure. For each of its several enormous cadenzas he had the physical resources to hurdle every technical challenge and the musical sensitivity to make the most of the contrasting poetic episodes. In the concerto's fiery display passages, which are lineal descendants of Liszt, Gutierrez was complete master. All in all, Conlon, Gutierrez and the orchestra achieved a brilliant performance.
Conlon's account of the Fourth Symphony of Dvorak was no less handsomely brought off, but the music is worth far less than the time required to play it, rising only occasionally toward the end of the slow movement to something approaching real beauty, and descending in the finale to pure claptrap. If Dvorak left his first five symphonies without numbers, why should so many conductors insist on trying to revive them today, leaving vastly more rewarding scores unheard?
Mozart's C Minor Adagio and Fugue opened the concert with correct, but uninspired playing, some measure for which might have been redeemed had a smaller string ensemble been involved.