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1.4.14

Israel Philharmonic

Gianandrea Noseda certainly gets around. In just the last few years, we have reviewed him conducting the National Symphony Orchestra here in Washington, the Teatro Regio Torino Orchestra in Vienna, and he makes regular appearances with the BBC Philharmonic, the Mariinsky Theater, and many other ensembles. He was back in Washington on Sunday night, on tour with the Israel Philharmonic, with whom he is now principal guest conductor, in a concert of French music presented by Washington Performing Arts Society (the 20th concert by this orchestra presented by WPAS). The orchestra was near the end of a long American tour, which also included a Bruckner program with Zubin Mehta at the helm. While Israeli ensembles are met with protests in some cities, such disturbances are generally rare in Washington, and there were no outbursts inside or outside for this concert; there were none at the Russian Embassy earlier in the weekend either. Only the performance of both the American and Israeli national anthems at the opening of the concert, along with the display of both nations' flags, carried a whiff of political overtones.

Noseda's forte, so to speak, thus far has been bold and dramatic pieces, generally with the loud and fast emphasized. That was still definitely true of the final piece on this rather long program, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, which Noseda led in a take-no-prisoners kind of performance, not without a few slightly slipshod areas. The work, a barn-burner par excellence, is a guaranteed big finish, but the best part of the concert came on the first half, three suites of brilliant miniatures of savant orchestration, which required svelte ensemble, beauty of instrumental color, and delicacy of sound. Noseda, against all odds, helped the orchestra deliver all of these qualities, showcasing especially the suave, unified tone of the its violin section, as well as the silvery low range of its principal flutist. Fauré's suite drawn from his incidental music for Maeterlinck's play Pélleas et Mélisande was otherworldly in its murky veils of sound, dark-hued strings and horn call in the first movement, the spinning motif in the second, and especially that famous flute solo in the third.

Fauré did with a smaller orchestra much of what Ravel did with a larger one, in the suite from Ma Mère l’Oye, in terms of vivid color at subdued dynamic levels. Ravel's tinges of percussion give golden edges to many of the sounds, and the echo of Chinese music was an important precursor to similar effects in Puccini's Turandot. In all of it, Noseda showed a patrician restraint, allowing every possible hue to shimmer faintly, down to the hilariously eructative contrabassoon as the Beast in Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête. The orchestra rose to its full height in the second suite that Ravel drew from his music for Daphnis et Chloé, which could probably have been omitted from the program. Fatigue among the musicians seemed to set in here and in the Berlioz, as there were more intonation issues in exposed parts. Here Noseda seemed to let loose more, and the orchestra responded with some thrilling swells of sound, especially in the perfectly choreographed lopsided dance (in 5) of the last movement, driven to an extremely fast conclusion.


Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Noseda leads Israel Philharmonic in rousing French program (Washington Post, April 1)

Peter Aronson, Israel Philharmonic Celebrates 80 Years of Harmony on U.S. Tour (Jewish Daily Forward, March 27)

David Fleshler, Israeli Philharmonic bites off a big piece of Bruckner in Miami concert (Miami Herald, March 24)
Perhaps to compensate for the length of the program, many of the movements in the Symphonie fantastique, which concluded the concert, were taken at breakneck speeds. This gave the first movement a sense of heroic exaltation, although the high-placed oboe solo sounded a little choked, and a whirling character to the waltz movement. The dialogue between the English horn and the off-stage oboe was the highlight of the Scène aux champs, which dragged on a bit. By contrast, the Marche au supplice felt too fast, making the burbling bassoon runs on the frantic side, although there were fine outbursts of brass, anchored by the blaat of the tuba. The finale began slowly and delicately, but Noseda soon had it flying along too, again perhaps too quickly for the col legno string effect to register clearly.

WPAS next presents the Minguet Quartett on April 2, 7:30 pm, in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

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