Dutoit in Lanaudière: the best of both concerts

07.24.11
Philadelphia Orchestra
La Presse

By Claude Gingras

The second and last concert of Charles Dutoit with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Saturday night at the Lanaudière Festival was the great success of this highly anticipated tour.

With those pièces de résistance, Rachmaninoff’s irresistible Second Piano Concerto and Berlioz's spectacular Symphonie Fantastique, this program attracted a much larger audience – some 6,500 people as opposed to the 5,000 counted the previous day. From a musical point of view, this program was stronger, more diverse, and put to better use the collective and individual qualities of the famous orchestra and those of Dutoit’s interpretation.

The evening starts impressively with Finlandia by Sibelius, Dutoit underlining both the martial air and the nostalgia of the piece. With the two Rachmaninoff programs, Dutoit recalled the association of the famous composer and pianist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. We know, for instance, that Rachmaninov recorded all of his concertos with the orchestra during the glory days of Stokowski and Ormandy.

The Russian as well, Kirill Gerstein aged 32 and winner of the 2010 Gilmore Award but still unknown, comes in white summer jacket despite the heat which had Dutoit and his musicians performing in their shirts.

Giant screens magnify everything: the pianist sweating over the keyboard, the gestures of Dutoit, and the intent look of the musicians fixated on him. The pianist played many wrong notes, but the humidity is probably to blame because his technique is first rate. The playing was always clear and the slow movement discovers a beautiful osmosis between the rubato of the soloist and the rich chords that surround it. (It is necessary to point out a mistake in the display of titles on the screens: the last movement is marked "Allegro (not "Adagio"!) Scherzando.")

Dutoit ends with one of the great successes from his recordings, the Fantastique, which he has programmed so often he conducts it from memory. He conducted the repeat in the first movement, but his failure to do the repeat  in March to the Scaffold (the fourth movement) reduces its impact. Its interpretation is still very effective: poetic, dreamy, frantic and loud.

As with the MSO at the time, Dutoit elucidates new details and highlights the counterpoint, helped by precise acoustics of the amphitheater. The English horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra does not equal that of the MSO, Pierre-Vincent Plante, and, like the night before, the oboe committed a small error, again attributable to humidity.

Dutoit instructed his musicians to stand in the middle of the ovation, and then spoke a few words, which due to no amplification, were not heard outside of the first few rows before signaling the start of the encore with his baton: Sibelius, the famous Valse Triste, played with an infinite tenderness.