Well before his operettas “Babes in Toyland” and “Naughty Marietta” made him famous, Victor Herbert had a thriving career as a cellist, conductor and orchestral composer, and his Cello Concerto No. 2 still surfaces from time to time. It’s a piece full of big pretensions and bigger gestures, and cellist Amit Peled was just the man to fill the bill as soloist in the Nordwest Deutsche Philharmonic’s performance at the George Mason Center for the Arts on Sunday.
Peled, a faculty member at Peabody Conservatory, is a rumpled-looking larger-than-life figure on stage. His Guarneri seems small as he envelops it, but the sounds that emerge are enormous — enormous and hard-edged (there were times when he overpowered the whole orchestra). Most of all, Peled is a big gesture man. His bow arm swoops in arcs at the ends of phrases, and he rivets the first-desk violins with the intense gaze of a hypnotist as he waits for his next entrance.
In all this, he and Herbert might have been soul mates. Herbert’s concerto is a juicy, showy concoction with an angular theme that anchors the first and last movements and a lyrical middle movement full of light-opera cliches (although at the time this was written, in 1894, they were not yet cliches). Peled, with a bow arm that produced both machine-gun speed, power and clarity in the fiendish spiccato chords of the last movement and a sense of heartfelt melodrama in the Andante movement, read Herbert’s intent splendidly. Conductor Eugene Tzigane and his excellent midsize orchestra moved flexibly with Peled’s rhythmic liberties.
On its own, the orchestra offered a whimsical reading of the Edvard Grieg “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1 and a decisive performance of the Brahms Symphony No. 1. An efficient conductor, Tzigane has a string section with a rich and well-focused sound and an orchestra that plays precisely without sacrificing energy. The long accelerando that powers the Grieg final movement, “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” full of plucked strings and wind staccatos that can so easily go astray, was masterfully managed.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.