The focal point of the American Philharmonic Orchestra's concert yesterday in the Kennedy Center was Gary Graffman's performance of the Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.
Temporarily robbed of the use of his right hand by the same mysterious affliction that has stricken the Theater Chamber Players' Leon Fleisher and several other pianists of his generation, Graffman delivered a notably strong account of the Ravel. His formidable technique produced tremendous sonorities in the opening cadenza and a kind of quicksilver legerdemain in the fireworks that follow.
Since Graffman is one of the towering musicians of our time, it was no surprise to hear him delineate clearly every aspect of the Ravel. The rhythmic precision of the descending chords was echoed in the jazzy sections. There is every reason to hope that Graffman will soon return to concertos requiring both hands. Meanwhile, it is exciting to hear him in the greatest of the works for the left hand alone.
Rohan Joseph brought his big orchestra -- it boasts 10 double basses-- to town for an afternoon of staples, the "Firebird" Suite of Stravinsky and the First Symphony of Brahms.
While the orchestra frequently made some beautiful sounds, it was not a good day in matters of intonation -- the openings of both Ravel and Stravinsky, which are strikingly similar, were poor, as were attacks early in the Stravinsky, immediately after the first cadenza in the Ravel, and at the outset of the second movement of the Brahms. Joseph should curb his fondness for the grand pause, with which he vulgarized the end of "Firebird."
Perhaps if he found a better use for his left hand than to run it through his hair, his players, who are excellent, would produce better results.