The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Beethoven on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Hall was sold out. The box office line for Will Call and Student Rush snaked almost to the sidewalk at the Kimmel Center. Guest maestro David Zinman got a rousing reception. So did principal violost C.J . Chang whose vehicle was the William Walton Concerto for Viola. Chang’s performance was a model of romantic lyricism and control and his colleagues outdid themselves echoing his virtuosity. Walton’s concerto never gets played enough. Once you hear it, (unless you’re hard of heart) you’ll want instant replay as Chang’s soulful performance deserved.
The Philadelphians opened with Michael Torke’s Ash, from 1988. It’s an earthy centered piece. Self-assured without being cocky; easy on the ears without being slick. Everyone is playing most of the time and often in the middle registers. It’s bold but not violently aggressive and the use of woodwinds is spare enough to make their presence all the more beautiful when they are engaged. Torke’s consistent rhythms excite without disturbing. Zinman handled these forces extremely well.
Also deserving kudos were assistant principals Juliette Kang (in the role of concertmaster); Yumi Kendall’s first cello and associate Kirsten Johnson who served as first viola throughout the concert.
Beethoven’s Fifth was the finish. A symphonic interpretation that did not over-reach. No nonsense all mastery by these players and Zinman who has led Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra for 16 seasons. It was quick-witted Beethoven and quicker than most readings. It was a fine thing to see Verizon filled with so many appreciative listeners. Many curtain calls no encores. Is the Philadelphia Orchestra turning a corner with its audiences or am I wishful thinking here?