The Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Charles Dutoit opened its season Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with a program that obviously pleased the large crowd.
Besides Kodaly’s rarely performed “Suite from Hary Janos,” there was pianist Emanuel Ax filling in for an ailing Andre Watts in Chopin’s Piano Concerto #2 in F minor and that old standby — Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The Kodaly was a colorful group of six short movements that included the use of the cimbalom, a delicate sounding Hungarian dulcimer, and an alto saxophone.
Heavily influenced by folk tunes, the melodies were very sweet with many instruments getting lovely solos.
Dutoit set stylish tempos and frequently asked for more color. The orchestra sounded terrific but was still settling in to the SPAC acoustics.
Ax was a superb interpreter of the Chopin. His fluid streams of notes were flawless and he gave the phrases much room to breath.
His dynamics were especially delicate and he didn’t hesitate to be forceful when the music called for it.
That energy lent a vigorous quality, which was a nice balance to the filagree.
In the slow second movement, Ax etched the sublime melody like the craftsman he is.
There was much delicacy in his very finished phrases.
The final movement was virtuosic, speedy and very charming in its sometime use of dance styles, such as the mazurka.
Throughout, Dutoit was the perfect partner.
The orchestra knew how to keep its balances and yet provided exuberant support when called for.
Ax was very pleased with the result as was the crowd, which gave everyone a standing ovation, long applause and several curtain calls.
Beethoven’s symphony is such an iconic work that people often forget its wonderful melodies, texture and interesting counterpoint.
The piece is really a celebration that is filled with mystery, charm and unexpected grace. And that’s the way Dutoit worked it.
Tempos were expected, but the clarity and cohesiveness of each section when it got the spotlight were impressive.
Dynamic levels were unexpected as Dutoit went from whispers to full blasts. The musicians were intense and involved and it was all very exciting.
Tonight, conductor Jeff Tyzik leads in a pops concert with music from films.