Pianist Barto gives Kennedy Center brawny, bright Tchaikovsky concerto

April 05, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 of pianist Tzimon Barto, conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kennedy Center last night was so brawny that it was possible to forget how intelligent an interpretation it was.

Barto can indeed disembowel a piano, playing double octaves at warp speed and producing a magnificent clangor. But, much more importantly, he was able to tease the ear into suspense so that the flood of double octaves he produced in the concerto's outer movements satisfied the audience's deep need for red meat that was scarcely cooked. And Eschenbach and the great Philadelphians gave him support that was as precise and elegant as it was pumped up.

But this was also an imaginative, not-by-the-book Tchaikovsky First. Barto produced some gossamer playing in the slow movement lighter and more fanciful than the usual virtuoso treatment. It was as if the Slavic world of the composer was suddenly invaded by the fantastic cosmos of the "Kresleriana" of Schumann. And then there was the way that Eschenbach got the winds to sound in the final movement. They took on the wild and uninhibited character of a Yiddish Klezmer band. It was a crazy touch, but it worked.

Just about everything worked for Eschenbach on this program, which also included Beethoven's "Leonora Overture No. 2" and Christopher Rouse's Symphony No. 1. The 54-year-old Eschenbach, the music director of the Houston Symphony, continues to impress as one of the most important conductors of his generation. The Beethoven overture was played with an imposing sense of its structure and with temperament that was able to ignite the virtuosity of the remarkable orchestra.

The Rouse Symphony, which was given its premiere several years ago by the Baltimore Symphony and its music director, David Zinman, received a fine performance. The German-born Eschenbach is much interested in American music, and this particular work, a Bruckner-like adagio of 25 minutes' duration with allusions to Shostakovich, Sibelius and Wagner -- all Eschenbach specialties -- seemed tailor-made for him.

One thing that struck this listener with even more force than it did several years ago was how unnecessarily loud the symphony is in places. It's a mostly beautiful work, but there were moments last night when it was hard to disagree with an audience that snickered at the portentous overkill with which the composer pitches his sonic blasts.

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