Lahav Shani, who will take over for Yannick Nézet-Séguin as chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic this fall, is guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra this weekend in a program which includes nothing from the nineteenth century.
In a daring work by Christian Lindberg, David Bilger was the less-than-convinced soloist in Lindberg’s three-movement trumpet concerto, Akbank Bunka. Although Bilger can play the trumpet as well as anyone in his league, he seemed to be ploughing through his part with little heart. Maestro Shani also seemed to miss the cynically comic effects which Lindberg inserted into his work– intimated by the title which is a nonsense amalgam of Japanese and Turkish words. Lindberg’s adroit and aggressive conducting of Pacho Flores and the Netanya Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra was much more lively than the rather staid reading by the Philadelphians and Maestro Shani.
Many voices were subdued (e.g. timpani and piccolo) and the muted voices written into Lindberg’s score, like the two orchestral trumpets playing in thirds and the duet between the soloist and first trumpet were hardly noticeable. Christopher Devinney’s untrammeled snare drum solo was a highlight, but the jazzy timpani licks and sudden high hat bursts were not bright enough to bring out the jubilant nonchalance of the concerto.
In Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version), though, the youthful exuberance of Shani’s conducting and the experience of the orchestra’s seasoned players were a winning combination. The double basses began the Introduction in a whisper that was eerily quiet yet penetrated the hall. So many woodwind duets danced through: bassoon, clarinet, oboe, the softest piccolo and flute. In the Berceuse, the entire orchestra played so softly that the harp was clearly heard above the symphonic pianissimo, and Danny Matsakawa played the final melody with aplomb.
The performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony N. 5 in B-flat, Op. 100, which the Philadelphia orchestra recorded with Eugene Ormandy in 1958 and Ricardo Muti in 1990, had passages which were a cloud of muddled sound. Prokofiev’s writing is sometimes too busy to yield clarity, yet the intriguing themes which run simultaneously in the brass and string sections could have benefited from a bit more control. There were stunning moments such as the flute and bassoon duo in the Andante, the rounded sound of the piano passages in the Allegro marcato, the outstanding tuba playing by Carol Jantsch, and the violas’ vivid dance in the Allegro giocosa, but the gifted Maestro Shani, who is only 29 years old, is a new wine which shows much promise but will undoubtedly benefit from aging.
[Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad Street] March 22-24, 2018; kimmelcenter.org