Classical review: The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Tel Aviv, October 7 and 17

Rachmaninov’s formidably challenging third piano concerto, was played by the consummate pianist Denis Matsuev.

THE IPO with its music director, Zubin Mehta. (photo credit: SHAI SKIFF)
THE IPO with its music director, Zubin Mehta.
(photo credit: SHAI SKIFF)
The IPO’s new season begun with a short curtain-raiser, Savage Overture by the Israeli composer Avner Dorman. Characterized by sharp rhythms with various timbres, it portrays the horrors of war. This was followed by Rachmaninov’s formidably challenging third piano concerto, played by the consummate pianist Denis Matsuev.
He gave a shattering and magisterial account of a work which stretches the soloist to his ultimate limits. Matsuev’s interpretation was commanding and elegant. All the delicate intricacies of the first movement were brought out by the pianist and the masterly orchestral accompaniment under IPO music director, Zubin Mehta. Seldom have I heard a more authoritative rendition of the ferociously challenging first movement cadenza. Matsuev was possibly at his best, however, in the adagio slow movement, which revealed elegance and sensitivity. The structural clarity of his interpretation transcended pure virtuosity, revealing his mettle as a great pianist.
The rest of the concert was devoted to an inspiring performance of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). The orchestration is of heroic proportions with demanding solos for most instruments. This was an opportunity to hear the orchestra at its best, and its sonic brilliance shone through. Mehta mustered his gigantic forces to give an insightful, coherent and riveting account of the work and brought out all its subtle details. This is precisely the repertoire in which Mehta excels.
The string section of the IPO has traditionally been its great strength, but the outstanding clarity and finesse of the woodwind and the brass sections was impressive. Full accolades go to the technical mastery of the principal horn, James Madison Cox.
While there is still speculation about the identity of the hero of Ein Heldenleben, it is generally conceded that this is the composer himself. This conclusion is reinforced in sections where Strauss quotes excerpts from his compositions including Don Quixote, Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel, among other works.
Strauss’s wife Pauline is represented by the solo violin (beautifully performed by IPO concertmaster Ilya Konovalov).
Strauss also takes umbrage at music critics. The latter are represented by the interplay between the woodwinds.
The second concert was devoted to Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, The Resurrection.
This symphony attains sublime heights while transcending religious barriers. Together with other supreme artistic endeavors, this symphony stands as a testament to man’s creative genius. In a stunning rendition, mezzo soprano Julia Rutigliano ushered in the vocal accompaniment in the fourth movement, entitled Urlicht (Primeval Light). She then joined soprano Lilia Gretsova, the Gary Bertini and Israel Kibbutz choirs in the symphony’s final movement, concluding with its hope for everlasting, transcendent renewal.
The choirs began softly but their volume increased inexorably. Mehta controlled the orchestra and chorus with flawless skill, bringing out the characteristic shifts of mood. The music slowly unfolded, culminating with the crashing concluding crescendo. This final movement, however, lacked the deep emotional intensity and gravitas which was so characteristic of previous epic performances of this unique work by conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado.