1st concert distinguished by unpredictable impact

October 23, 1997|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Monday night's concert by the Stuttgart Philharmonic, the first ensemble to appear in the Naval Academy's Distinguished Artists Series this season, yielded results I wouldn't have predicted.

With a midline German orchestra in town, an all-but-unknown conductor on the podium and a world-class pianist like Misha Dichter on hand to play Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto," you'd figure the big-name soloist would dominate the proceedings and send the audience home buzzing.

So much for my career as a fortune-teller.

It turned out to be a tough, tough night for Dichter, the gifted American whose medal-winning performance at the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow propelled him to an international career that continues. Whether he was ill, distracted or just suffering through an off night, his was an "Emperor" with no clothes -- and precious little else to recommend it.

The large Alumni Hall audience heard no snap or panache in the opening movement. The opening arpeggios, which should have set the listeners bolt upright, were soggy and uneventful. The great cat-and-mouse game of ascending and descending scales near the end of the movement had no pizazz at all as maestro Jorg-Peter Weigle's group was forced to play tag with itself.

Most shocking of all was Beethoven's gorgeous adagio, which should sing with heart-stopping beauty but merely hopped from note to note, from one vapid pianissimo to another, with nary a hint of poetic lilt. And if there was any real bravura in the concluding rondo, I missed it.

I felt for the poor conductor, who did his level best to animate the proceedings. He accompanied earnestly in the outer movements, and his players showed a willingness to follow him, though, ultimately, it all went for naught.

Things went better in Beethoven's kinetic Seventh Symphony. Despite a few splatters from his winds (many of them from a notably sub-par French horn section), Weigle fashioned a vigorous, astute, all-business traversal of this extraordinary work.

The opening movement offered no great insights, but I was pTC taken with the allegretto. Nice nimble playing in the scherzo, and the concluding allegro was indeed "con brio," though I wish the orchestra had taken time to tune before the final assault.

As the symphony ended, the audience, which had acknowledged the concerto with such tepid applause an hour earlier, had a reason to voice its unambiguous approval. An unexpected turn of events, I'd say, but a happy enough ending.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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