March 27, 2016

He brought out the best from the Philhamonic

by Gal Apelroit



Violinist Ray Chen and soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Muller appeared with the Israel Philhamonic but the big star was conductor Christoph Eschenbach

By Gal Appelroit

Yesterday’s concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. In the first part, Brahm’s Violin Concerto featured Taiwan-born violinist Ray Chen. Brahm’s concerto requires virtuoso skill, great emotion (it is romanticism at its height) and even strength from the soloist. Chen produced from his violin a thin, clear, precise sound. These qualities are not, in themselves, bad, but when dealing with Brahms, I expected something more juicy, more overwhelming. I wanted to hear something almost extreme that would lift me to heaven, but this was not so. Chen’s playing was correct and full of good intentions and, in several places, even worked (mainly in the first movement), but I felt a loss of tension in the second movement (apart from the woodwind instruments which starred at the start of the movement).  This was corrected in the energetic third movement. For his encore, Chen chose Bach’s Gavotte en Rondeau, which was an excellent choice. After Brahms’ romanticism and before Mahler’s dramatic music, the piece of Baroque Bach brought something refreshing and charming to the evening.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 was beautifully performed. The orchestra transformed Mahler’s most “Haydnesque” symphony into a demonstration of orchestral effects bordering on the modern with a warm, uplifting sound. The sole supervisor of the concert, conductor Christoph Eschenbach, did wonders with his interpretation of Mahler and brought to the surface every nuance hidden between the notes of the intensely dense score.

The first two movements, with their changes of weight and rhythm, as well as the frequent changes of mood that so characterize them, were the most impressive. The adagio movement was performed with immense reverence, duly deserving of such a beautiful movement, as the orchestra responded to every instruction (trembling of the hands) by Eschenbach to intensify the emotion. In her first appearance with the Philharmonic, soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Muller sang “The Heavenly Life” in the last movement. Her singing was persuasive and beautiful, albeit not heavenly.

The big stars were the orchestra and the conductor. Let the Israel Philharmonic perform Brahms and Mahler and, for the most part, you will not be disappointed. This repertoire is tailor-made for the IPO: it knows most of it by heart and that is why it sounds so good when performing this material. And when you add a conductor such as Eschenbach, who is prepared to highlight every subtlety that transforms a musical work into a masterpiece, the result is above average.

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