Enthusiastic Ovation for Young French Pianist, Standing in for André Watts

United StatesUnited States Weber, Beethoven, Franck: Lise de la Salle (pianist), Philadelphia Orchestra/Fabio Luisi (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 3.2.2017. (BJ)

Weber – Oberon Overture
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.4 in G major Op.58
Franck – Symphony in D minor

André Watts made his first appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of ten, as winner of the orchestra’s Student Competition. The intention in scheduling Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto for this program was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of that occasion, which has been followed by more than 100 return appearances. The Philadelphia public’s much-loved visitor, however, was forced by a health problem to withdraw from the engagement.

Though this certainly ranked as a major disappointment for the audience, his replacement, the 28-year-old Cherbourg native Lise de la Salle, garnered an enthusiastic ovation, which she richly deserved. Her conception of the concerto had no eccentricity but a good deal of character about it, and, as must usually be the case with this most lyrical and unaggressive of Beethoven’s concertos, along with the fullness and warmth of her forte, it was her tone in pianissimo passages that made the most deeply impressive effect. The central Andante con moto, believed to have been conceived by the composer as an evocation of Orpheus taming the Furies, thus took its place as the rivetingly intense heart of the work, though there was also much of that nature to admire in the interplay between pianist and orchestra in a searching account of the first movement and a scintillating reading of the finale.

The concert had opened with a performance of the overture to Weber’s Oberon that was set on its course by Jennifer Montone’s smoothly elegant horn solo, and in the faster music that followed Fabio Luisi drew playing that was clean in ensemble and notably sweet in tone from the orchestra’s fabled violin section. After intermission, the maestro’s conscientious solicitude for the clarity of inner parts accorded Franck’s Symphony more interesting textures than it reveals in most performances. The overall orchestral sound was beautifully balanced, and Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia illuminated the slow movement with an eloquent english horn solo. Even under Luisi’s skillful direction, the finale offered less in the way of lofty musical inspiration, but its sheer zest brought the evening to a suitably stirring close.

Bernard Jacobson

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