United States Grieg, Beethoven, and Mozart: David Kim (leader), Imogen Cooper (piano and leader), Philadelphia Orchestra, Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 7.2.2015 (BJ)
Grieg: Suite for Strings, From Holberg’s Time
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2
Mozart: Symphony No. 38, K. 504, “Prague”
Suitably scaled down in numbers for the repertoire in hand, the Philadelphia Orchestra played this concert, not with the usual baton-wielding conductor on the podium, but under the leadership of concertmaster David Kim, who in the concerto shared the responsibility with piano soloist Imogen Cooper.
At the start of the evening, the sight of violinists and violists playing in standing position suggested thoughts of H.I.P. (“Historically Informed Performance practice”), but the actual performance of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, admirably fresh and zestful, was relatively mainstream in style, and was certainly innocent of any drastic effort to eradicate vibrato.
For the other two works on the program, everyone was seated in the usual way, with Kim, to aid visibility, raised on the small platform usually put in place for solo cellists. After intermission, for my favorite Mozart symphony, it would have been useful if he had taken the step of restoring the seating pattern to the classical left-right separation of first and second violins, which would have enhanced the effect of the Ainitial statement of the Allegro theme with the melody in the seconds and the rhythmic repeated-note accompaniment in the firsts.
This was nevertheless a performance of considerable merit, with crisp articulation, vibrant tone, and some incisive work on timpani by Angela Zator Nelson. Tempos, too, were well chosen and maintained without too undue rigidity.
My major reservations were only two. Though the horns played with immaculate tone and impressive technical polish, I think their culminating transition phrase into the recapitulation of the middle movement would have sounded more in style if their grace notes had been played long on the beat rather than short before it—an they certainly look in the score more like relatively long appoggiaturas than like crushed accacciaturas.
That movement suffered, moreover, from Kim’s decision not to observe the exposition repeat (which he did take only in the finale). It is in this wonderful Andante that the repeat is really crucial, because the sudden change of key—and expressive tone—at the start of the development section depends for its dramatic effect, indeed for its very raison d’être, on its coming as a radical change from the calm course of a previously repeated exposition.
No such formal considerations needed to be thought about in Beethoven’s relatively straightforward Second Piano Concerto. Here Kim led an orchestral performance of unfailing lucidity and, except for one momentary small lapse of ensemble, admirable tautness, and Imogen Cooper’s magical projection of the solo part was limpid in tone and impeccable in its combination of expressive warmth with stylistic insight.