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O.C. MUSIC REVIEW : Dresden Brings a Guest Maestro

January 27, 1994|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

COSTA MESA — America hasn't seen much of the Dresdner Philharmonie, a.k.a. the Dresden Philharmonic.

This distinguished orchestra, founded in 1870, did make something of a splash when it first visited the States back in 1909. But then came a couple of world wars. And then came the partitioning of Germany, which left Dresden curtained off in the forbidden east.

We heard recordings, of course, and a few broadcasts. We knew that this was an ensemble with a fabulous history involving such conductors as Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, not to mention Bulow, Busch, Nikisch, Kleiber pere and Masur.

But the Dresdeners never came close to Southern California until this week. And now it can be argued--also lamented--that we have heard the Philharmonie under less than authentic conditions.

For the current tour, the orchestra left one key player at home: its official music-director. His name--not exactly a household commodity hereabouts--is Jorg-Peter Weigle. Although he has been in charge since 1986, the tour sponsors probably regarded his international obscurity as a box-office liability.

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He may be a neglected genius. He may be a talent unworthy of export. Chances are, we'll never know. In September, Michel Plasson, a much-traveled Frenchman, will take over; Yuri Temirkanov, the eccentric Russian, will assume the duties of principal guest-conductor. The days of musical nationalism are obviously drawing to a close.

The man wielding the baton Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center was Philippe Entremont of Rheims, France. Long celebrated as an elegant pianist, he has recently joined such colleagues as Daniel Barenboim and Vladimir Ashkenazy in the apparently irresistible quest for stellar fulfillment on the podium.

He is, without doubt, an enlightened musician, a solid technician and an authoritative leader. On this occasion, however, he did not prove himself a distinctive or subtle interpreter of Brahms, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

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That may not be entirely his fault. It takes time to establish maximum rapport with an orchestra, and we have no indication that the Dresdeners ever encountered Entremont before they packed their bags this month.

Under the circumstances, one had to applaud the attentive professionalism of all concerned. One had to admire the unison sheen of the Dresden strings, if not the occasionally blaring brass and intermittently nasal winds. One could appreciate the special blend of big, bright, slender tone, and the discipline in depth. Still, one couldn't help wondering how this orchestra sounds at the Kulturpalast am Altmarkt.

The Costa Mesa concert, presented by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, began with a crisp and brisk, emphatically unpompous performance of Brahms' "Academic Festival" overture. It ended with a propulsive, colorful, emphatically unsentimental performance of Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony.

The troubles came in between, with Beethoven's wondrous Triple Concerto for piano, violin and cello. Entremont made the fateful decision to wave directions from the keyboard, and he paid a price for his ambition.

Unable to devote full attention to the orchestra, he had to settle for generalities when specific instructions were most wanted. Dynamic subtleties were slighted accordingly. Coordination and precision became sometime things.

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Possibly distracted by his conducting duties, Entremont played the piano solos rather perfunctorily. That is hardly his style. And having to face his orchestra meant that he had to turn his back on his fellow soloists.

Cho-Liang Lin, the dauntless violinist, gave the performance as much finesse as he could. Carter Brey, the sympathetic cellist, often found lofty intentions compromised by dubious intonation.

Still, there was little wrong with this performance that a conductor couldn't have fixed. Perhaps next time . . . .

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