`Till Eulenspiegels’ Highlights London Philharmonic Concert

Hartford Courant
March 25 2006

`Till Eulenspiegels’ Highlights London Philharmonic Concert
March 25, 2006

By MATTHEW ERIKSON, Courant Staff Writer Disappointing many music
lovers, the 78-year-old maestro Kurt Masur canceled his scheduled
American tour with the London Philharmonic due to illness.

Yet to the credit of the orchestra’s organization (and some lucky
breaks in conductors’ schedules), the LPO located some stellar talent
to take Masur’s place. The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, music
director of the Minnesota Orchestra, led for the California part of
the tour. Neeme Järvi and Yan Pascal Tortelier substituted for many
of the orchestra’s Northeast engagements.

Thursday evening at the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center
for the Performing Arts, the spotlight was on Tortelier. The French
conductor is part of a troika of conductors announced in 2004 to
succeed Mariss Jansons at the Pittsburgh Symphony. Tortelier’s
strength is considered to be the French repertoire, but in a
tell-tale sign of his versatility, he left Masur’s original program
alone. What’s more, his incisive conducting made a strongly positive
impression.

Still, Thursday’s program was oddly lopsided, particularly as a
showcase for one of Europe’s finest orchestras. Youthful works by
Britten and Mozart occupied the evening’s first half. It was mere
appetizer. The musical meat came after intermission with
Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto and Strauss’ ebullient tone poem “Till
Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche.” Youth remained the concert’s theme.

Twenty-year-old Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan created
something of a sensation in the concerto. The soloist’s white-hot
virtuosity turned the audience on to a work they likely hadn’t heard
before. The composer Khachaturian may have lacked the biting wit of
his contemporaries Shostakovich and Prokofiev, but his 1940 concerto,
written for the great violinist David Oistrakh, has an emotional
immediacy and makes appealing use of folk-like melodies and colorful
orchestration. In one delicious passage in the opening movement,
Khachatryan’s violin melted seamlessly into a duet with clarinet. The
concerto’s slow movement had the seducing contours of an Erik Satie
Gymnopédie. The propulsive finale provided ample opportunity for the
violinist to shine. Khachatryan’s future is surely one to follow.

Elsewhere, the orchestra’s tonal brilliance projected beautifully in
the dull acoustics of Jorgensen. The first half of the program,
mainly featuring the London Phil’s strings, performed Britten’s
“Simple Symphony” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 with X-ray
transparency. Tortelier sculpted phrases with élan and finely
calibrated dynamics.

The evening’s singular highlight came in the Strauss. With the
orchestra fully represented on stage, Tortelier milked every comic
gag in the tone poem, which is based on the heroic trickster of
German folklore. Aside from some overeager brass, the musicians
played it to perfection.

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