Chailly, Concertgebouw offer polished performance

April 03, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Just their performance of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements at the Kennedy Center Friday evening was suffiecient proof that conductor Riccardo Chailly and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra comprise one of the most important conductor-orchestra teams on the musical scene today.

This is an orchestra that plays the way one imagines the most expensive automobiles run: no bumps as gears shift; able to do anything asked; and capable of providing thrills without threats of breaking down. The jazzy rhythms of the Stravinsky's first and third movements were filled with unself-conscious panache and the cool elegance of the slow movement was conveyed with subtlety was all the more remarkable for its unobtrusiveness.

The 41-year-old Chailly's conducting was equally exemplary. His approach to the notes was honest -- there was nothing of the tarted-up tricks and turns so fashionable nowadays with some of his colleagues -- and it made the sense of emotional desolation implicit in this music all the more telling.

Prokofiev's brilliantly colored "Love for Three Oranges" was burnished to near perfection. And while attention was paid to the composer's Rimskian inheritance, Chailly and the Concertgebouw also did a superb job of catching Prokofiev's abrasiveness and cheek.

But the most interesting performance of the evening was the least perfect: Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 in C Minor with the Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires as the soloist.

Piresis a woman so tiny that she would make the diminutive Spanish pianist, Alicia de Larrocha, seem as robust as Sigourney Weaver by comparison. Hands as small as those of Pires cannot produce much in the way of volume and they certainly were not capable of making the sort of dramatic statement one is accustomed to in the C Minor Concerto.

But Pires was able to substitute finesse -- she commands several grades of pianissimo -- for power most successfully. Pires gave the first movement a touchingly pleading quality; in the slow movement she wove an unusually delicate garland of arpeggios around the basson-flute solo; and in the final movement, her delicacy of fingerwork and shading of color recalled the great Clara Haskil, another woman with tiny hands, a big heart and a powerful mind.

The accompaniment Pires received from Chailly and the Concertgebouw was sympathetic and as beautiful as old gold.

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