Lucky for Philadelphia Orchestra guest conductors they don't know what's come before them.
Gianandrea Noseda might have hesitated to program Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 had he known he would have to live up to the indelible imprint left on this piece by Simon Rattle three years back. But by the end of his Friday concert in his weekend-after-Thanksgiving series, Noseda performed the symphony with different-but-equal conceptual strengths.
Often falling into mellifluous autopilot or twee descriptiveness, Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony came off almost like a series of separate tone poems. The first movement had the character of a brisk, outdoor walk - not through the park, since the movement lacked gratuitous prettiness - each phrase well defined by all manner of shading and dynamic contrasts, all executed by the orchestra with great conviction.
The second movement was more of an interior meditation on rivers and woods rather than the real thing. Prettiness abounded. Back to reality, the merry peasants of the third movement were happy but not cute. The ensuing storm movement was especially explicit, with the sounds of various creatures scurrying for cover. The symphony can conclude clumsily, and though Noseda didn't nail it, it was far better than usual.
In Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, the strong-minded Tbilisi-born soloist Alexander Toradze was not about to be straightjacketed by this tightly written piece. His entrances commanded extra space with a slowing the tempo, as if clearing his throat for some great oration. This may might sound counter to Ravel's studious lack of pretension here, but he made it work. The bluntness of the younger Toradze was nowhere to be heard in some of the more intimate passages. Here is a video clip of Toradze and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in the Symphony in G:
A surprise hit was the concert opener, Partita by Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003), which shows a young composer spectacularly resolving opposites - rhythmically bossy one minute and ultra-chic (in a neoclassic way) the next, weighty here, witty there. The orchestra gave the piece extra stature. Who ever thought the Philadelphians would be such authoritative Petrassi-ites? Here is a performance of the piece by the Orchestra della Scala:
Yet another hit occurred while I was crossing Broad Street with the light, when a double-parked vehicle backed into me. A few months before in the same intersection, I was nearly wiped out by skateboarders zooming out of the darkness. How about some traffic supervision? Both concerts had been wonderful, but not to die for.