SARATOGA SPRINGS — The last week of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center started with Wednesday’s love fest for violinist/conductor Itzhak Perlman and ended Saturday with the bang of the cannon in the Tchaikovsky Spectacular.
The audience began clapping before Perlman appeared on stage to play J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. Not your usual summer fare, but Perlman sang his lines with gusto and the large string orchestra followed his lead. He then exchanged his bow for a baton for Weber’s Overture to “Oberon.” Tempos were steady but sparkling, and phrasing was very musical.
After intermission, it was a masterfully performed Brahms Symphony No. 1. Perlman set traditional tempos that had a strong forward momentum. Phrases were stretched, and he often asked for more passion. The orchestra played with a big sound and much depth of tone. Both pieces got standing ovations with loud cheering and long applause.
Thursday was the start of conductor Stephane Deneve’s three days on the podium. The exuberant Deneve played with each piece’s tempos, dynamics, color points and inner voices to create something new. Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture” was brilliantly performed with a wide range of dynamics and an electrifying race to the end.
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein did a wonderful job with Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1. She was passionate, showed a clean, facile technique and a rich tone. Deneve was a sensitive collaborator whether she was dramatic or delicate. As an encore, she offered the lively Bouree from J.S. Bach’s third unaccompanied cello sonata.
Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell” featured many excellent solos and the brilliant brass section, which played the theme for “The Lone Ranger.” The crowd roared its approval, but not to be outdone, the four movements of Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome” upped the decibel level. With Deneve’s “bold” move to put three groups of brass in the balcony to create a surround sound, it made for fabulous stuff.
Friday brought dance fans to see New York City Ballet dancers Ashley Bouder and Sebastian Villarini-Velez create the white and black swan pas de deuxs from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” They danced wonderfully even to being in character. Deneve watched them closely and concertmaster David Kim played the famous solos with exceptionally nuanced phrasing.
The orchestra also sounded sensational in Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain,” his “Pictures from an Exhibition,” Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” and a scene from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Deneve gave each an individual rather than a traditional reading, which gave new meaning to the works. The crowd loved it and whooped and hollered a long time before he waved goodbye and the lights went up.
Pianist Denis Kozhukhin, in his Saturday debut, was the marvelous soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3. He played with great passion, effortless technique and much bravura in a work considered the pinnacle of virtuosity. After the huge crowd ceased cheering, he played for an encore the Bach/Ziloti Prelude in B minor as a haunting meditation.
The orchestra played several excerpts from Prokofiev’s colorful “Cinderella” that gave Deneve plenty of room to explore with delicious effects. Then, with the audience all abuzz, Deneve made Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” fast and furious and the cannons roared. It was the end to a great season.