Noseda Reveals a Man in Love with the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony

United StatesUnited States Petrassi, Ravel, Beethoven: Alexander Toradze (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 26.11.2016. (BJ)

Petrassi – Partita

Ravel – Piano Concerto in G major

Beethoven – Symphony No.6 in F major, Op. 68, Pastoral

As an uncle of mine used to say to his wife, “You remind me of Marilyn Monroe – you’re so different.” Among all the dozens – maybe hundreds – of times I’ve heard Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Gianandrea Noseda’s interpretation reminded me most forcibly of the performance that George Szell conducted in Chicago around 1970, the reason again being that the two versions were so different.

The martinet-ish character of Szell (a conductor I’ve always thought overrated) led to an interpretation that turned the sublimely lyrical and tranquil first movement into something more like a military march, with supposedly sforzando-piano accents hammered home to the point of sheer brutality. Noseda’s treatment could hardly have been more different. I still wonder whether all his left-hand gestures – somewhat distracting to the audience and surely also to the players – are really necessary, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating: his body language throughout the symphony was clearly that of a man in love with the music, and the result was orchestral playing of heart-easing warmth.

It did no harm that this opening movement was taken at a tempo slightly below what Beethoven’s metronome marking suggests. Speeds for the other four movements corresponded more closely with those markings. It was a particular pleasure to hear the Scene by the brook (in which principal flute Jeffrey Khaner featured as a most sympathetic nightingale) played at exactly the right flowing tempo, avoiding the dirge-like somnolence that conductors used to inflict on it not many years ago.

Noseda, a devoted advocate for his compatriots’ music, had begun the evening with the orchestra’s first performance of the Partita by Goffredo Petrassi. It’s an effective early piece by a man who was to become one of Italy’s finest 20th-century composers, but who at 28 had not yet developed the highly individual and expressive style that would flower in his eight concertos for orchestra and in such vocal works as his Coro di morti.

Nevertheless, the Partita drew committed playing from the Philadelphia Orchestra, and it was followed by a performance of Ravel’s G-major Piano Concerto that was utterly compelling in both orchestral and solo terms. On occasion Alexander Toradze has yielded to a tendency toward banging, but there was nothing of that nature in this wonderfully concentrated, witty, and expressive reading. The soloist allowed himself plenty of leisure to bring out the intimate character of the slower passages, and his variety encompassed both quicksilver decorative touches at the top of the keyboard and some mighty but never harsh pronouncements in the lower registers. Noseda, again, was exemplary in accommodating Toradze’s flexibility of tempo and pulse. Clearly this is a conductor whose sheer authority on the podium matches the distinction of his stylistic taste and expressive range.

Bernard Jacobson

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