United States Barber, Brahms, and Dvořák: Augustin Hadelich (violin), Philadelphia Orchestra, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 6.2.2016 (BJ)
Barber: Overture, The School for Scandal
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77
Dvořák: Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70
It is perhaps an unexpected term to apply to a violinist only 31 years old, but the word that came insistently to mind while Augustin Hadelich was playing Brahms’s Violin Concerto was “authority.” Among the remarkably populous ranks of fine violinists now before the public, there may be a few who project a more immediate frisson of charm and sparkle, but I cannot think of one who exceeds the sheer seriousness and dedication—the sense that the music is sacred—that shone forth from Hadelich’s observant phrasing and luminous tone, to say nothing of his magisterial technique and dignified yet communicative platform manner.
For an encore, his choice of Paganini’s whirlwind Caprice No. 5 may on superficial consideration have seemed a touch frivolous, but I found it intelligent: it would surely be impossible to match the nobility and classical poise of the Brahms concerto with a bonne bouche in a similarly lofty vein, so it makes sense to go in a quite different direction. The orchestra, meanwhile, had supported the soloist in exemplary fashion under guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who in the concerto wisely toned down the visually distracting choreography with which he had danced his way through a nevertheless somewhat heavy-handed account of Samuel Barber’s School for Scandal overture. The Philadelphia Orchestra players are so professionally skilled that they managed to navigate the rather awkward path thus created well enough, but they would probably have had an easier time of it without all the swaying and the superfluous left-hand gestures they were faced with.
But I don’t want to place too much stress on that aspect of Maestro Orozco-Estrada’s work. He might well echo Leonard Bernstein’s disarming confession that, while he sympathized with concert-goers distracted and upset by his physical gyrations, there was simply no other way he could conduct the music—and himself—when he was on the podium. And the results Orozco-Estrada obtained, whatever the means he used to achieve them, were excellent both in the concerto and in the symphony that completed the program.
No. 6 is my own favorite among Dvořák’s symphonies, but I acknowledge that No. 7 is probably the greatest. This performance fully realized its stature, both in the dramatic outer movements and in the richly romantic Poco adagio. It made a worthy conclusion to an evening highlighted also by warm string tone in both major pieces, some superb work from the woodwinds—including associate principal Peter Smith’s eloquent oboe solo in Brahms’s slow movement—and crisp timpani playing by Angela Zator Nelson in the concerto and Don Liuzzi in the symphony.