Perlman, as conductor, closes Boca festival with stirring Beethoven

By Alan Becker

The third annual Boca Festival of the Arts reached its finale Sunday with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. What makes this unusual is not the music, which seems to find its way into every festival these days, but the appearance of violinist Itzhak Perlman as conductor rather than as soloist. Once again, the venue was Mizner Park’s Count de Hoernle Amphitheater. 
With the Russian National Orchestra appearing on such a warm evening, it would seem that the frigidity of the brutal Russian winter would be mostly absent from the players’ thoughts. There was certainly nothing cold about the playing, and along with the Master Chorale of South Florida and a quartet of soloists, the Beethoven masterpiece generated a considerable amount of heat on its own. As for Perlman’s conducting, it was forthright, mostly traditional, and frequently inspired. 
Opening with the composer’s well-known Egmont Overture, helped set the scene for the uplifting music to come. Written as part of the incidental music for a revival of Goethe’s stirring drama, Egmont’s themes are universal–human freedom, and the triumph of idealism over repression. Perlman communicated well with the players, and they responded with stirring energy and considerable restraint when the music required it. The French horns were particularly brazen and barked out the rhythms as Beethoven must have really wanted. As a matter of balance, all fit in perfectly within the context. 
The NInth Symphony begins quietly but soon turns to a rhythmically powerful motif that appears throughout the movement. The timpani were sometimes explosive, whacking and slashing their way as if attempting to dominate the orchestral texture. It was even more thrilling than usual, and made one realize the necessity of their full presence within the ensemble. The scherzo moved along with vigor and determination, only to relent a little in the trio section. Once again the horns covered themselves in glory as their radiant tones came to the fore. 
The Adagio molto cantabile was just that. Strings and woodwinds achieved great expressiveness as Perlman kept things flowing in rapt, otherworldly beauty. The musical relationship with the slow movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 was brought to mind, as melodies were spun seamlessly. 
Only in the Ode to Joy finale did things falter a little, and none of this could be blamed on the orchestra, soloists, chorus, or conductor. In an effort to allow everything to be heard, the discrete miking placed the singers in the vocal quartet far closer to the ears than they would ever be heard in the concert hall. Yes, they certainly sounded good, but in doing so a sacrifice of natural perspective had to be made. Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson’s stentorian opening was impressive, but it was moments before his location could be correctly positioned on the stage. Soprano Layla Claire, mezzo Kelley O’Connor, and tenor John Tessier were all there as well, right in front of the chorus. It sounded glorious, and all threw themselves into the music without reserve, but it was difficult to evaluate their true capabilities given the technical assist. 
There was the usual applause between movements, with people leaving before the finale–one even left at the start of the Adagio. Who would want to hear this symphony without the choral finale, especially after the Master Chorale had put forth their considerable best?

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Perlman, as conductor, closes Boca festival with stirring Beethoven”

  1. Posted Mar 16, 2009 at 1:48 pm by Carole Sandvos

    As a member of Master Chorale of South Florida, I want to thank you for your review. It was a thrill for all of us to perform such glorious music with Maestro Perlman and the Russian National Orchestra. We did, indeed, throw ourselves into the performance, and hopefully, while creating beautiful music, we’ve impressed people from other geographic and cultural climates that there is, indeed, culture to be found in South Florida!

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Mon Mar 16, 2009
at 9:51 am
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