Pianist shines in mostly lackluster concert by Entremont, Deutsche orchestra

By Lawrence Budmen

Sebastian Knauer

The Deutsche State Philharmonic under conductor Philippe Entremont played works by Strauss and Brahms Monday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach but it was pianist Sebastian Knauer who took the musical honors with a thilling performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

In this most Mozartean of Beethoven concertos, Knauer balanced classical elegance with authoritative command. This young German pianist’s exquisite touch and digital dexterity were wedded to a patrician interpretive view. He offered a robust yet nuanced performance that illuminated the subtleties beneath the score’s light-hearted surface.

From the piano’s first entrance, Knauer’s rhythmically virile approach made the first movement riveting. The cadenza was exciting, attacked with energy and panache. Knauer perfectly conveyed the serenity of the Adagio without heavy-handedness, the surging solo line singing forth like wordless lieder.

The Rondo finale was highly charged, Knauer’s crisp articulation always allowing the music to sparkle. In a thrice-familiar concerto, Knauer uncovered inner figurations and lines often obscured. The entire performance radiated a sense of joy yet demonstrated the most refined artistic sensibilities. Despite some untidy string playing, Entremont offered pliant, supportive accompaniment.

Knauer’s performance of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, as an encore, demonstrated even greater sensitivity. He strongly conveyed the poetic introspection, reverie and romance of Brahms’ beautiful keyboard writing.

Based in the Rhineland cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen, the Deutsche State Philharmonic, while not a first rate ensemble, is considerably better than many German provincial orchestras. The brass section is particularly strong, sometimes overwhelming the rest of the orchestra. While the corporate violin tone is somewhat thin, the lower strings are impressively mellow and sonorous.

The crucial horn and clarinet solos in Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, which opened the program, were articulated with admirable precision and impressive tonal compass. Despite Entremont’s generally fast tempos, Strauss’s witty portrait of a professional prankster was still straightlaced, wanting in humor and sparkle.

Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 brought the orchestra’s strengths and weaknesses into full view. The performance benefitted from a fuller violin sonority and strong solo contributions by the first chair flute, clarinet and horn players. Oboe solos, however, were reedy and imprecise.

Entremont’s stodgy direction yielded variable results. The symphony failed to catch fire in the first movement and Entremont’s habit of lingering over phrases sacrificed musical pulse and the broader shape. Balances occasionally went awry with dominant brass engulfing the ensemble. The score’s two inner movements fared best with a lyrically spacious Andante and tautly drawn Scherzo. In the concluding passacaglia, Entremont’s deliberate tempo impeded momentum and impact.

The conductor brought greater urgency to the two encores – spirited performances of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.1 and the first of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances.

The Deutsche State Philharmonic under Philippe Entremont plays Weber’s Oberon Overture, Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (with Sebastian Knauer and Entremont as soloists) and Mahler’s 4th Symphony (with soprano Julie Cherrier) 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. The Strauss-Beethoven-Brahms program will be repeated 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Arsht Center in Miami. 800-572-8471 kravis.org, 305-949-6722, arshtcenter.org

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Tue Feb 8, 2011
at 2:47 pm
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