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June 8, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 23
 
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Religious Coalition for Equality seeks Executive Director
 
The still-great Philadelphia Orchestra at Benaroya Hall
The still-great Philadelphia Orchestra at Benaroya Hall
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Back when I was a teenager, I used to wonder why my Columbia LP's of the NY Phil didn't sound as terrific as those by The Philadelphia Orchestra. Same recording engineers, yet the NY players sounded thin in comparison.

That was before I came to know first-hand that orchestras differ greatly in their overall sound. Seattlites got a great opportunity to experience such differences when the Philadelphia players filled Benaroya Hall with their own brand of lushness at a recent concert.

The opening 'Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major,' perhaps by Mozart, showed us the excellence of the first-chair winds from Philadelphia. Richard Williams, oboe, Ricardo Morales, clarinet, Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon, and Jennifer Montone, horn, stood up front as they played both together and solo in this delightful work. Though the composer was uncertain, it sure sounded like the genius, humanity, and downright friendliness of Mozart to this listener. Much longer than the more familiar 'Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola,' this delightful work filled the first half of the program.

The "main course" followed intermission, with the full orchestra completely filling the stage. Berlioz' 'Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14' requires forces of Wagnerian proportions. An unusual TWO tubas and two harps and an expanded percussion section augment the orchestra. (I am told that Carol Jantsch, who played first-chair tuba, is the only woman tuba player in any major orchestra in the world!)

But the most amazing fact about this work is that it was composed only three years after Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. What a quantum leap in musical imagery in just three years! The young rebel-genius Berlioz showed no influence whatsoever by his near-contemporary, Beethoven. Just as the great Viennese composer had set the musical world on its head with his 'Eroica' symphony, so too did this upstart Parisian.

While conductor Christoph Eschenbach did not show us anything new in his reading of this wild work, his control of the orchestra was more than competent. Indeed, the sounds they made were spectacular in the richness and power that seemed to flow without effort from the ensemble. The strings in particular were thicker, warmer, and louder than Seattle is used to. The other really pronounced difference was the incredibly aggressive sound of the forte trombones in some of the wilder moments. The overall effect of this combined richness was that the sound was less transparent than the Seattle Symphony's. But, oh my, what a sound it was!

The encore, a Johann Strauss perpetual motion polka, was an excellent showpiece for the ensemble. They really whipped up a storm of frothy yet powerful exuberance, leaving us giddy with delight.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.
 



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