By Lawrence Budmen

Philippe Entremont has combined the roles of piano virtuoso and conductor in a career that has spanned five decades. Entremont returned to South Florida in both capacities on Wednesday night to open the Concert Associationís season with the Munich Symphony Orchestra at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Nineteenth century German romanticism was in full bloom as Entremont offered assured performances of touchstone works by Weber, Beethoven, and Brahms. 

In recent seasons Entremontís keyboard technique has been less than pristine but, on Wednesday, he offered a remarkably solid performance of Beethovenís Piano Concerto No.4.While there were a few missed notes and imprecise runs, Entremont played the concerto with commanding authority. He clearly views this work as the precursor to the Emperor Concerto. Instead of the usual genial interpretation, Entremont offered majestic, heaven storming Beethoven. The gentle, noble simplicity of his soft playing in the Andante strongly contrasted with the orchestraís stern interjections. In the concluding Rondo, Entremont conveyed a vivid sense of Beethovenís continually inventive musical discourse. Conducting from the piano, he forged ensemble playing that had the intimate vibrancy of chamber music. 

While the Munich Symphony is not one of Europeís front rank orchestras, the ensemble is strong and capable with typically warm, rich Central European strings. 

Entremont is a middle of the road conductor in the best sense of the term. While he does not offer the ecstatic insights of a Furtwangler or Stokowski, his music making is consistently imaginative. He opened the concert with an unusually weighty performance of Weberís Oberon Overture. The suave string playing was particularly felicitous in Entremontís broadly romantic, songlike approach to the scoreís second theme. 

Brahms Symphony No.2 has been called the composerís ďpastoral symphonyĒ and Entremontís performance was bucolic indeed. The cello theme in the first movement resounded with the amber glow of Alpine vistas while the lyrical Adagio suggested a glorious sunset. The conductorís brisk, clipped phrasing gave dance like vivacity to the charming Allegretto. Entremontís vigor and idiomatic lilt brought the symphony to a joyous conclusion in the quintessential Brahmsian key of D major. The ensembleís incisive playing earned an enthusiastic standing ovation.

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