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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, February 14, 2015
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Charles Dutoit, conductor. Nikolai Lugansky, piano

Conductor Charles Dutoit

CHAMPAGNE ORGY OF SWISS ORCHESTRA'S SOUND IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 14, 2015

Orchestras on tour usually perform hefty display works to showoff their virtuosity and power. And so it was with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR) Feb. 14 in Weill Hall. Big works, weighty display. And in a surprise the compositions by Stravinsky and Ravel in the second half did the rare thing of upstaging a popular Rachmaninoff piece with piano.

Debussy’s Ibéria opened the concert and the performance established the OSR as a resplendent ensemble with a charismatic leader. Conductor Charles Dutoit directed in a taught reading where the Spanish flavor of the 1908 tone poem only appeared near the end with the sound of castanets, trombone slides and glowing melodies in the bassoons. and oboes.

Mr. Dutoit has a direct but never extravagant podium style, using the score for each of the four works and conveying cues effortlessly to the 80-person OSR, all clad in black with the men in tails and the women in stylish dresses and pant suits.

The overshadowed item was Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op 43, with Mr. Dutoit and pianist Nikolai Lugansky in happy agreement about tempos and phrasing. In many ways it’s a more difficult work to perform than Rachmaninoff’s C and D-Minor Concertos, as many of the variations and tricky rhythms can cause ensemble problems. But here all was in place with the soloist’s sure technical command in evidence in the flashy cadenza of Variation 15 and inimitable playing from the brass. That said, it was a conventional performance with orthodox phrasing and style. Pleasing in every way but a bit prosaic, even at the repeated “Dies Irae” plainchant motifs so familiar with this composer. At the end the audience recalled Mr. Lugansky three times but there was no encore. Concertmaster Bogdan Zvoristeanu played compelling solos as he did throughout the evening

Mr. Dutoit led a concluding half that was a champagne orgy in sound, beginning with Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingalesuite from his ballet. Here the playing from the entire wind section, especially from flutists Sarah Rumer and Loïe Schneider, was brilliant, and the conductor carefully managed the many short inter-section duos: solo violin and winds, trumpets and strings, harps and celesta.

Sonic splendor continued with a performance of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2, another work extracted from a ballet. The French’s composer’s style, so familiar from the Mother Goose Suite and Impressionist piano works, brought forth gorgeous string playing, and Mr. Dutoit’s command of changes of volume and orchestral texture was faultless. Again solos from the winds were shapely and Mr. Dutoit clearly has this music in his Swiss (and surely Gallic) blood, controlling the knotty Danse Générale with a fluid but precise beat.

I have heard many Weill Hall ovations that have been louder than the one the OSR received, but perhaps none longer. The audience of 1,100 adopted a European-style of approval with stamping feet and continuous applause, and the conductor was called out four times. An encore was not forthcoming and Mr. Dutoit finally waved his hands, signaling that the musicians wanted to finally leave what had been a memorable concert.