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German orchestra shines; Philharmonic conductor stages jubilant comeback.

Byline: John Zeugner

COLUMN: MUSIC REVIEW

Music Worcester Inc., in sponsoring the visit of The German State Philharmonic Orchestra Monday night at Mechanics Hall, had to overcome the vicissitudes of frigid weather and a very last-minute program change. Somewhere between Greenvale, N.Y., and Worcester, the conductor for the orchestra's first U.S. tour, Philippe Entremont, suffered food poisoning (ah, those Turnpike packaged sandwiches), and decided to drop his plans to play Mozart's Concerto for two pianos with his brilliant colleague Sebastian Knauer. Instead Knauer, with cool solo aplomb, substituted Beethoven's 2nd piano concerto. Despite illness, Entremont soldiered on in his conducting capacity. And by evening's end he seemed to draw buoyancy and joy out of the audience's very warm reception of his work. To the standing, cheering crowd he tossed no less than three encores, two Brahms Hungarian Rhapsodies, and a final bouquet of Sousa's familiar march, "Stars and Stripes Forever."

The concert's opener, Carl Maria Von Weber's "Oberon Overture," quickly established the 88-person orchestra's bona fides. The piece begins with a challenging French horn solo that principal Tsun Tak Cheung handled with lush, sterling tones. With deft, precise baton flicks, Entremont drew lyric silk and whiplash drama out his musicians. The low strings - in particular, violas, cellos, and double basses - were particularly strong for such youthful sections. The brass kept up easily, as did the spot-on tympani. Only the violins and woodwinds seemed a notch down, but hardly a detriment to the gorgeous sound and dizzying energy Entremont drew out of the group.

One might have expected a ragged, under-rehearsed Beethoven, but instead Knauer served up a light, efficient, calculatedly capable run-through, with the very supple pianist actually turning his own music pages during the first movement's complicated cadenza taken at a hair-raising pace. Although labeled the second concerto it actually is Beethoven's first and most Mozartian effort, with chunks delivered by the orchestra followed by separate piano segments. Only in the rousing and familiar third movement did the composer find the integration of solo and orchestral sound so prevalent in his fourth and fifth concertos. In the serene second movement there was a bit of smudged lyricism, but in the finale Knauer set a blazing pace that easily brought the audience to their feet applauding. Obligingly, the consummate professional pianist provided a softly singing encore of Mendelssohn's "Song Without Words."

The second half was given over to Gustav Mahler's wonderfully lyrical and sunny Fourth symphony, a meditation, as the final movement's song indicates, on the nature of heaven as envisioned by a child. The Fourth seems a respite between the monumental symphonies earlier and later in Mahler's tortured career. Although adhering to four movements, Mahler tosses traditional sonata form to the winds and riffs back and forth in Leonard Bernstein's memorable phrase, "with one foot in the 19th century and the other firmly in the 20th." The music ripples between Schubertian/Brucknerian lushly melodic, sweet rhythms and very Shostakovian sardonic snarls, always exploring the range of sound - everything from giant gong to sleigh bells. It's music that travels along the mica edge of schmaltz, only to land in shimmering breathtaking beauty, topped off with slashes of dissonance and smirk. To comprehend it all, especially in the perfect acoustics of Mechanics Hall, might entail schizophrenia, but what a rich, stunning trip Entremont and company provided. The symphony closed with soprano Julie Cherrier - in a stunning strapless blue iridescent and sparklingly sequined marine blue gown - soaring above the lush orchestra to intone in German: "The Angelic voices gladden our senses, so that everything awakes to pleasure." Absolutely so!
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT & LIFESTYLE
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 26, 2011
Words:599
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