Birthday celebrations were the focus of last night's Philadelphia Orchestra concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Orchestral showpieces by Joaquin Turina and Zolta'n Koda'ly, both of whom were born 100 years ago next month, framed Andre' Watts' magnificent performance of the Saint-Sae ns' Second Piano Concerto.
Although one shouldn't have to wait for centennials to be exposed to Turina's orchestral music, his intense Spanish lyricism and impressionistic treatment of Spanish folk materials could have received no better treatment than that afforded by Rafael Fru hbeck and the Philadelphians in the three highly contrasting works that filled the first half of the program. The opening "Bullfighter's Prayer" gave the justly famed string section the opportunity to set the tone for the sort of passionate intensity that was to mark the entire concert.
Fru hbeck's orchestration of the "Theme and Variations for Harp and Strings" seems to allow the harp soloist to get lost in the rich textures on occasion; perhaps a reduced number of players would allow more of the unusual variation technique, as well as harpist Marilyn Costello's fine playing, to come through.
The third Turina piece, "Danzas Fantasticas," and Koda'ly's "Galanta Dances," which closed the concert, received all the brilliant playing and sensitivity to rhythmic intensity that these substantial works required. Fru hbeck demands the utmost in clarity and contrast from his musicians; the dance-like quality of this music was made particularly clear as a result.
The Saint-Sae ns concerto received a fiery interpretation and absolutely brilliant execution. Conductor and soloist were in perfect agreement, and the orchestra was particularly sensitive to the chamber textures of the first two movements. The breadth of the opening movement, with its clear sense of direction and timing, the scherzo, with its remarkably subtle exchanges between the soloist and orchestra, and the finale, which literally raced along, built to the well-deserved standing ovation that Watts and company received.
Every concert (or opera) conducted in Washington by Maestro Fru hbeck seems to demonstrate his incredible competence, musicianship, and ability to communicate -- with the performers, the audience, and, above all, with the composer. How fortunate Washington's audiences are!