The Philadelphia Orchestra with Gianandrea Noseda and Alexander Toradze

Reveling in Ravel

Scheduled to assume the helm of the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center next season, Gianandrea Noseda guest conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra over Thanksgiving weekend, providing a jolt of brisk but accessible modernism in the first half of the program, and a full-bodied expression of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, in the second.

Guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda at work. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra)

A rare treat

The Partita, composed in 1932 by Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003), a lively, sometimes raucous collection of dance-like morsels in three movements, is only the third work by this composer ever performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The work employs the resources of the full orchestra. It is divided into three crisply defined and characteristically diverse movements compacted into nearly 25 minutes of stirring, often discordant voltage in movements one and three.

In between, a gripping lament rises out of the basses and a chorus of weeping cellos punctuated by the brilliance of a single trumpet. Noseda’s conducting style matched the effect he hoped to achieve. In the flashier parts of this work, he conducted vigorously, his baton slicing the air, whereas in the very intriguing second movement, which encapsulates so many different sensations, he coaxed and beckoned the lines of sound that can send chills up listeners’ spines.

The work was followed by another short 20th-century composition, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. Certain jazz-like fragments in the first and final movements have an almost iconic familiarity, but there is a wealth of musical material in between that yields great rewards for thoughtful and frequent listening.

Showmanship and passion

A very charming and talented piano soloist, Alexander Toradze, joined Noseda and the orchestra for this performance. Toradze’s playing was everything a listener could hope for, full of insight, wit, and swagger all supported by an impressive technical mastery. At the end of the first movement, which ends spectacularly, Toradze glanced at the audience, almost ready to burst with pent-up applause, and raised his hand in a gesture that said, “Go ahead!” The crowd dissolved in both applause and laughter. At the end of the final movement, he leapt up, embraced the conductor, and planted a kiss on his cheek. In addition to his musicianship, Toradze’s personal warmth and total immersion in the experience of performing was palpable.

Following intermission came Beethoven’s Sixth, the Pastoral. For this performance, Noseda selected a large orchestra but an intimate sound, pleasing perhaps both classical camps: those who prefer the authenticity of a smaller ensemble and those whose tastes run to ample proportions. The symphony premiered in Vienna in 1808 in a “monster concert” that included a number of other Beethoven masterworks, including Symphony No. 5. But there is nothing monstrous about this delightful work, which celebrates the joys of nature and dancing outdoors, despite a thunderstorm, which quickly fades to let through heaven’s own golden light. The work is more poignant when we realize the composer’s increasing deafness at the time of its composition, and that soon, the only birdcalls he would hear were those in his imagination.

Noseda respected the different experiences represented in this symphony, cajoling a light tone at the beginning, the rich orchestral forces growing more intense with threatening storms, and rising to a beatific vision foreshadowing a future ode to joy. This symphony has some of the loveliest lines in music for woodwinds and horns, and the orchestra’s musicians do them full justice.

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