Thursday, February 20, 2014

Touring orchestra from Israel performs with mixed results at the Palladium

The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel moved quickly to the top of the metropolitan heap in the area of giving local exposure to international representatives of the performing arts.

Sometimes this exposure helps confirm the value of what we have locally, among other benefits. It also offers a benchmark — either higher or lower on the scale, according to taste — of how standard repertoire pieces are treated today.

That was one positive part of my mixed response to the appearance of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra Wednesday night at the Palladium.  The concert had moments of coordinated energy, an arresting interpretive flair (especially from the piano soloist) and, it can't be denied, the ability to arouse audience enthusiasm.

But in works by Weber, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven, the Israeli orchestra's performance also displayed stodginess and imprecision and, to zero in on the most persistent example (the horns), technical inadequacy. As conducted by Boguslaw Dawidow, the Polish principal guest conductor appointed in 2012, the ensemble may fairly be described as provincial. Experience together was evident, but not on as thoroughly a high plane as one might have hoped.

Execution at the front of the string sections was satisfactory, but only the cellos and basses sounded consistent front to back. I have no clear impression of the violas, but the violins seemed woolly, soft-focused. That impression struck home immediately in the curtain-raiser, Weber's Overture to Euryanthe, where the dogged shakiness of the horns also made its first appearance. Their tone was shot through with burbles and flecks; confidence and clarity didn't emerge until a passage  in counterpoint with the oboe late in the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.

Boguslaw Dawidow conducted the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in Carmel.
After intermission, in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major, the horns typically lagged behind.  True,  there was a ray of sunshine in the horn's second-movement solo. But by the last movement, the blurring and burbling had returned.

Dawidow didn't seem in firm control in this masterpiece; the finale, in order to feel properly on the edge of abandon, paradoxically needs a much firmer hand than it got from him. I longed for such pulling together as appeared after the first Trio statement in the Scherzo, but it was not often in evidence. A premature violin entrance and an unsynchronized oboe melody that didn't right itself until the cadence also permitted a less than positive impression of this orchestra to take root in my mind.

And it was that impression I left the hall with, since I didn't catch the two encores a fellow concertgoer later told me about in an instant message: a song from "Schindler's List" (featuring violist Avshalom Sarid) and "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Returning to the Tchaikovsky concerto, chock-full of catchy tunes and keyboard spectacle, there was palpable sympathy between podium and piano, which was commanded with aplomb from straight-back chair by Roman Rabinovich. But it was in the service of an interpretation that favored an overload of pedal. Even in the romantic repertoire, my taste leans toward the "sec," to borrow a wine term. Rabinovich had a lead foot, even allowing sustained harmonies to become discordant before releasing the pedal to give room to new material.

His agility, articulation and nimbleness were admirable, so it was clear he wasn't using the pedal to cover a multitude of sins. But he had a bad case of "jangle fever." Apart from a mannered, precious  quality in lyrical passages (the cadenza went limp in places), there was commendable brio and eager commitment in his performance. Called back for an encore, Rabinovich offered a variegated Prelude in D-flat major, op. 28, no. 15 by Chopin. With its glowering middle section in the minor mode, the choice suited the soloist's evident predilection for extremes.