by Michael Caruso
Former Germantown resident and internationally acclaimed keyboard virtuoso Andre Watts returned to the city in which he grew up to perform Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major” with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The concerts were heard Nov. 13, 14 and 15 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. I caught Saturday evening’s performance and was overwhelmed by Watts’ technical command and interpretive maturity in a work that both projects all the charm of a Mozart piano concerto with a serious helping of the profundity Beethoven injected into classical music as his compositional development continued throughout his life.
The First Concerto (actually the second written but first published) is certainly “early” Beethoven in that it was composed in 1795 and then revised five years later, during the years when Beethoven was still performing as a concert pianist in Vienna. But like all of the piano sonatas leading up to the “Pathetique Sonata in C minor,” composed in 1799, “early” Beethoven should never be considered “easy” Beethoven. The only other classical music genius to deserve being placed alongside Johann Sebastian Bach, Beethoven’s music towers above that of virtually every other composer, even if it was written while he was still in his 20s.
Watts played with technical efficiency and a sense of personal style all convincingly placed with respect for the music as Beethoven intended it to be heard. His rendition was forthright yet gracious, and he received exemplary support from guest conductor Jakub Hrusa. After intermission, the 33-year-old Czech-born Hrusa led a stirring performance of Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8 in G major.” It reminded me of renditions of Dvorak’s music conducted by the late Eugene Ormandy, the orchestra’s music director from 1936 until 1980. I am not referring to the Ormandy of the 1970s or even the 1960s but the Ormandy of the 1950s, when I first heard him conduct the Philadelphians in the Academy or Music. In those days, the Hungarian-born Ormandy invested Dvorak’s Bohemian music with all the tart tones and vibrant rhythms the composer intended — and that’s precisely what Hrusa did Saturday evening.
VOX AMA DEUS
The Romanian-born Valentin Radu will conduct two of his ensembles in two separate concerts occurring in late November and early December. Both have local connections, one by taking place in Chestnut Hill and the other by involving a local performer. That “local performer” is actually a Bosendorfer imperial concert grand piano, which will be provided by Germantown’s Cunningham Piano Company. The concert is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater and will feature the Ama Deus Ensemble playing Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture, opera choruses from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” “Idomeneo” and “Cosi fan tutte,” and Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor,” with Radu as the soloist.
“What makes this concert especially noteworthy is the fact that I’ll be playing the concerto on Bosendorfer’s imperial grand piano,” Radu explained. “At a length of nine feet, six inches, and with 97 keys down to the ‘subcontra low C’, as compared to the standard 88 keys down to the low A, the Bosendorfer is the world’s largest concert piano. I also want to mention that this concert is dedicated to the memory of longtime Chestnut Hiller and music lover, Lewis DuPont Smith. His wonderful wife of many years, Andrea Smith, serves on the board of directors of Vox Ama Deus and sings in the Ama Deus Ensemble chorus.”
Radu will follow up this program with a concert featuring one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah,” set for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. There will be several subsequent performances, including 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, in the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peters & Paul at Logan Circle on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“We enjoy performing in St. Paul’s Church,” Radu continued. “The gorgeous woodwork helps produce a beautiful, burnished sound that makes every note come across with warmth, clarity and crispness. These excellent acoustics add greatly to the experience for both the audience and the performers. For many years, I have chosen to perform Handel’s 1749 Covent Garden version, which was heard by King George II. We will perform it complete and uncut.”
For ticket information call 610-688-2800 or visit www.VoxAmaDeus.org.