CONCERT ASSOCIATION OF FLORIDA
BERGEN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
ANDREW LITTON/ ANDRE WATTS
SHOSTAKOVICH/ GRIEG/ PROKOFIEV (11-12-07)
THE BERGEN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA STAKES
ITS CLAIM TO THE TOP TIER
By Lawrence Budmen
Founded in 1765, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the oldest symphonic ensembles in the world. It counts Edvard Grieg, Norway’ s musical patron saint, among its music directors. Long overshadowed by the excellent Oslo Philharmonic, the Bergen musicians appeared to be entering the world class orchestral realm at their performance for the Concert Association of Florida on Monday at the Carnival Center’s Knight Concert Hall.
The American conductor Andrew Litton has been in charge of the Norwegian ensemble since 2003 and his strong rapport with the orchestra appears to have paid artistic dividends. Opening the evening with fanfares, Litton ignited a spirited romp through Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, with trumpets blazing to impressive effect.
Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor may be an overplayed warhorse but Andre Watts injected fresh life into this familiar work. Watts’ technique and digital command remain nearly undiminished by time. He gave a grandiose performance in every sense, replete with mastery of the heroic keyboard line and the ability to make the instrument sing lyrically as well as ring with thunder.
Watts sensitively traced the yearning of the haunting Adagio. Dispatching Grieg’s arpeggios with thrusting brilliance, the pianist rendered the folk dance finale w ith Chopinesque grace and style and attacked the coda with stormy brilliance.
A generous selection of excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet were essayed with uncommon sensitivity to the intimate side of Prokofiev’ s sprawling orchestral canvass. After an overly boisterous Morning Dance, Litton led a broadly conceived, beautifully paced performance.
Shimmering combinations of flute and harp, an insinuating tenor saxophone, and evocative string solos were treated with the delicacy of chamber music.
By contrast, Litton turned the concluding Death of Tybalt into a tour de force of orchestral fireworks. Harpist Eluned Pierce was a standout, bringing wistful elegance and precise musicianship to her solos. Ilze Klava’s solo viola was tonally rich and expressively intense.
For an encore, Litton turned to the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, combining, in perfect proportion, the lush colors of a first rate symphonic ensemble and the brash pizzazz of a Broadway band.