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Concert Review: The Philadelphia Orchestra at Kennedy Center and Verizon Hall

Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays with The Philadelphia Orchestra
Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays with The Philadelphia Orchestra

Lesley Valdes, WRTI's critic-at-large, reviews the Fabulous Philadelphians' June 3rd performance of a Ravel, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff program at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center. Repeat performances will be held at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall on June 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th.

Concert Review: The Philadelphia Orchestra at Kennedy Center and Verizon Hall

The Philadelphia Orchestra
At The Kennedy Center
Charles Dutoit, Conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Piano

Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Liszt: Totentanz
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Ravel: La Valse

The Philadelphia Orchestra has been traveling to the District of Columbia since 1971, thanks to the sponsoring Washington Performing Arts Society. During the heyday, it was six concerts a season; now they're down to one, but Washingtonians are glad to hear them, and players say they wouldn't mind playing more. The subscription program of Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and Liszt had its warm-up Wednesday night at The Kennedy Center. Chief conductor Charles Dutoit's devil of a program was a throwback to Eugene Ormandy.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the man with a thousand touches, used them to delight in Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, and dazzle in Liszt's Totentanz. Dutoit's a canny programmer. This one makes much of interior and obvious connections. The Totentanz is built upon the Dies Irae and Liszt's angels and demons recur in the motives Rachmaninoff employs in the Symphonic Dances. The French pianist and Swiss maestro have exceptional accord. For them, the orchestra provides the respect that shows up in musical nuance. Fear steamrolls in the Totentanz, when Liszt's whispers aren't reaching for the heartstrings. Daemons in the Symphonic Dances, composed for Ormandy and the orchestra, who gave the world premiere. Rachmaninoff uses sweeter chant and his beloved Dies Irae in the final dance. Washingtonians appeared entranced as these players, young and older, summoned their famous flow. Dutoit steers more emphatically, leans more on the beat than Ormandy or Muti but his Symphonic Dances are fresh.

La Valse, Ravel's mockery, got an angry exposition, exposing every phrase and entrance - a good thing - but the interpretation came across as overly manipulated. The whirling, madness of Ravel's parody is still a dance. It was wonderful that every instrument could be heard in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, which has undergone its own acoustic revamping. On the train home, players noted they could hear themselves - something they are struggling to fix onstage at Verizon. Many said they liked the capitol's "dry but honest" hall. Wednesday, the Philadelphians warmed it up.

More Information:

Program Notes, Audio, and Ticket Information for Kimmel Center Performances on June 5, 6, 7