Though the annual day-after-Thanksgiving Philadelphia Orchestra concert can often feel like a drowsy tryptophan performance, popular guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda unleashed a monster of a symphony that, though a century old, had its U.S. premiere Friday and Saturday at the Kimmel Center.
Occupying the second half of the program, Alfredo Casella's barely known Symphony No. 2 (1909) isn't nearly as evolved as his Symphony No. 3, but it makes a mighty sound, employing all manner of brass and percussion plus an organ finale that's meant to bring an audience to its feet, and did so Friday. But I wouldn't want to hear it with a lesser orchestra or a conductor less possessed by Casella than Noseda.
The first movement jumps between ideas that hardly seem to belong in the same piece much less the same movement. Episodes are delineated with not-so-pregnant pauses and are built on thematic ideas that are more about quantity than quality, piled on with a density that suggests either creative insecurity or a decision to scrunch rather than cut the piece. In one way, it's visionary: The movement seems like the soundtrack to an action movie long before such things existed.
The other movements are like musical tornados that dare not slow down for fear of dissipating, from the tarantella-ish rhythms of the second to the march-like final movement. And that fear was real. The slow movement does indeed lose steam, partly because its tempo allows you to realize that the music's thematic basis is only halfway engaging.
So why does the symphony work despite itself? Noseda tapped into its hectic energy while inspiring a first-class Philadelphia Orchestra performance - not to be taken for granted with such a large, wild, unfamiliar piece.
But at least the orchestra didn't even have to brush up on the Rachmanionoff Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, having recorded it earlier this year with keyboard powerhouse Daniil Trifonov. Friday's soloist, Simon Trpceski need not fear comparisons. Few pianists address the virtuoso aspects of Rachmaninoff as Trifonov does, but Trpceski has greater expressive precision and used it to reveal Rachmanionoff's wit. He and Noseda conspired to turn the piece's ricochet rhythms into delightful banter. And the warmth they brought to it showed that this is the composer's single most adorable piece.