The Israel Philharmonic's concert under Zubin Mehta at the Kennedy Center Saturday night was mostly grand, though there was a disconcerting taste of the banal to it.
At least the banal work came at the beginning and could be quickly forgotten. Mercifully, it was short, if not sweet. "Prelude to a Drama," by Leon Schidlowsky, is said to be part of a trilogy of works based on mottos from the poems of Dylan Thomas--though it was hard to discern any literary dimension in the performance.
One thing the "Prelude" did not seem short of was decibels. There was one tone cluster after another from the brass and the percussion, which was spread all the way across the stage. For this listener it was no better than noisy and monotonous.
Fortunately it was grandeur that dominated the concert afterward--most of all in the encore, which was the adagietto from the Mahler Fifth Symphony. Having a work of that consequence as an afterthought on a symphonic program was a bit like finishing a baseball game with five extra innings. The performance carried real authority--with less rubato than Bernstein and more in the nature of Bruno Walter.
Before that came a rich, passionate rendering of the Brahms First Symphony. Mehta pushed for breadth without indulging in interpretive eccentricities. Some of the elements that can be crucial to this noble work soared: self-assured horns and deep lower strings. Mehta pressed whenever possible for spaciousness, with no loss to forward force in the process. Members of the orchestra, in an odd reversal, were applauding the conductor at hand; that is something that you almost never see.
Also, there was the Bruch First Violin Concerto with violinist Shlomo Mintz, who had canceled a concert here earlier last week because of illness. He seemed to have recovered. It was an intense, lush performance and it proved that the man is one of the better young fiddlers around.