By Lawrence Budmen 

The Philadelphia Orchestra has long been the aristocrat of American symphonic ensembles. The groupís aural image was molded and polished by Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy and refined by Riccardo Muti. Now Christoph Eschenbach has taken the helm of this venerable orchestra. When the Concert Association presented the Philadelphians on Wednesday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, there was cause for rejoicing. Eschenbach and the musicians produced inspired music making. 

Beethoven was the eveningís featured composer. Indeed even Lisztís Piano Concerto No.2 in A Major was permeated by the artistic shadow of the master from Bonn. Pianist Tzimon Barto and Eschenbach approached the work with classical restraint rather than over the top romantic bombast. Bartoís intelligent reconsideration of the score was beautifully proportioned. Barto possesses an awesome technique. His soft playing was exquisite; bell like in its tonal purity. Yet he could also roll thunderous octaves. 

As an encore Barto played a Sarabande by Rameau in stylish Baroque manner. His subtle dynamics and gracious phrasing made a persuasive case for playing this harpsichord work on a modern piano. 

Eschenbach offered thinking manís Beethoven. Along with Michael Tilson Thomasís season opening performance of the Eroica Symphony with the New World Symphony, the Eschenbach-Philadelphia traversals of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies were some of the most lucid, perceptive Beethoven performances heard in South Florida in many seasons. 

Eschenbach made Beethovenís music dance. The Eighth Symphony was emphatic in an Italianate manner. In the quirky Menuetto, the ensembleís rock solid horns produced beaming sonority and stunning accuracy in the instrumentsí high register. The finale was a vivacious display of orchestral precision. 

From the first buoyant notes of the Seventh Symphony, Eschenbach combined vigor with expressivity. The grave Allegretto was marked by strongly etched lyricism. The violas produced a rich tonal wave of molten lava. Eschenbach took the finale at a fierce tempo and brought unusual weight to the music without loss of momentum. 

A standing, cheering ovation brought more Beethoven. The Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus was a lithe, sparkling demonstration of the unique Philadelphia sound.

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