BEETHOVEN (3-10-09)

By Lawrence Budmen

While the music of Ludwig van Beethoven is thrice familiar concert fare, the master from Bonn's miraculous canon always remains fresh and replete with artistic surprises in the hands of gifted, probing artists. On March 10 the third annual Festival of the Arts Boca presented the stellar Russian National Orchestra under its founding conductor Mikhail Pletnev (in a rare American podium appearance) and pianist Jeremy Denk in an evening of supremely intelligent music making that revealed Beethoven's glories anew.

Denk, a keyboard artist of rock solid technique, exhibited lyricism and poetry in the Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat Major, Op.73 (Emperor). With pianistic power in reserve, Denk revealed superior artistry of deep musical intellect and discernment. The pianist offered an original, arresting interpretation of Beethoven's final keyboard-orchestral showpiece, eschewing bombast in favor of melodic beauty. Accompanied in dulcet tones by Pletnev and his superior ensemble, Denk spun the Adagio un poco mosso with serene eloquence. The final Rondo danced from the keyboard with vivacious charm. The Denk-Pletnev collaboration produced musicianship of the highest order.

While the Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 is Beethoven's most frequently played orchestral work, there was nothing routine about Pletnev's highly personal reading. Recalling the legendary Serge Koussevitzky, Pletnev offered a highly dramatic first movement, pausing for the dramatic emphasis after the opening chords. His richly songful view of the second movement (burnished by the cello section's honeyed tonal sheen) set the stage for a Scherzo and final Allegro of relentless energy and climactic power. The Moscow based orchestra's bass sections had a field day in the trio section of the third movement, channeling awesome virtuosic aplomb while the brass offered visceral excitement in Beethoven's final stirring peroration.

The concert opened with the premiere of 75th Fanfare by American composer Luna Pearl Wolf, a brightly ceremonial birthday offering for arts philanthropist and Russian National Orchestra patron Gordon Getty who was present to accept anniversary greetings. Pletnev and his powerhouse ensemble brought a full plethora of colors to Wolf's wide ranging instrumental palette.


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