Conductor Gustavo Dudamel surprised some audience members right from the start: In the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert last week he began Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings astonishingly softly, almost inaudibly.

The sound then increased gradually, rising to an intense climax, in a performance reminiscent of the work’s world premiere, conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1938.

Two symphonic poems by Richard Strauss in succession – Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel – might seem rather too much of a very good thing. Conducted by Dudamel, though, they sounded like works by two different composers. The orchestra itself, usually solid, serious and well-behaved, sounded like a different orchestra – temperamental, glittering, exuberant, fresh, wide-awake and impassioned, yet also perfectly disciplined and accurate.

Strauss’ ingenious multicolored instrumentation left no room for complaints of soloist unemployment. Each instrument was highlighted in its turn with loving care. No less impressive were the effectively placed rests, held just long enough and followed by shattering tuttis. Don Juan’s passion and despair, and then Till’s mischievous, sharp humor were rendered with unmistakable clarity.

Emanuele Silvestri, the soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No.

1, played with an appealingly light, elegant touch, and noble restraint. A modest primus inter pares, he never let his instrument sing more audibly than the orchestra. Some more temperament and liveliness might have made his performance more communicative.

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