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Geneve 10; Wien 0

L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande -- appearing under the joint sponsorship of MIT and Hewlett-Packard -- brought fireworks to Kresge Auditorium last night.

From the first strains of Ravel's Alborada del gracioso, it was clear that we were hearing something special: from a mythical-disembodied effect to brilliant crescendos, the orchestra held the audience rapt. Strings could produce urgent pizzicato, low waspish drones, and convey pure lyricism in the midst of excitement. Brass could weave virtuoso color with transcendent clarity, winds adding refreshing perspective. Playing was simultaneously crisp, detailed and dynamic. And the subtlety with which contrasts were developed increased their power.

By the time L'Orchestre had convinced everyone that they were Spain's premier orchestra, we were off on a tour of Vienna, our guide Ravel's delicious symphonic evocation of the waltz, La Valse. The piece sparkled with rhythmic vitality; the orchestra were clearly enjoying themselves, and their seeming ease of playing translated into a warm and witty performance. Kresge departed for the Orient next, as the orchestra -- joined by soloist Suze Leal Rehfuss -- launched on Ravel's Sh'eh'rezade. Waves of orchestral sound held Rehfuss buoyant as she characterfully sung Asie. A beautiful aeolian flute drew us into the magic of La Fl^ute Enchant'ee, gently shimmering strings highlighting the dreamy quality of Rehfuss' singing; finally, L'Indiff'erent brought a touching conclusion to the work.

Sensuous flute playing returned to lead the innocent into the eye of Ravel's Bolero. The flautist's eloquent and carefree playing thinly-disguised a lurking if latent tension to be passed to other soloists to wind up into a fully-fledged storm. The build-up was elegant, tensions unbearably surpressed -- except in the listener's imagination -- until they suddenly seemed to burst forth, surround and capture. Armin Jordan's control was absolute, the accuracy he drew forth gripping: Rhythms hypnotised, drums ensnared, serpentine melodies transfixed.

Two encores followed: A floatingly-beautiful rendition of Ernest Ansermet's orchestral arrangement of Debussy's Pour l'Egyptiennes, and a fun-packed performance of Marche Joyeuse by Chabrier. An evening to remember.

An evening to forget had occurred just the night before when Wolfgang Sawallisch had led an insipid concert by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall. Equality for women has not arrived in Vienna, and the all-male orchestra sounded as stuffy as they looked.

Mozart's Jupiter Symphony is a work of such invention that I could never heretofore conceive of it boring me, but the Vienna Symphony Orchestra succeeded in reducing it to the level of supermarket muzak.

Polished, the performance certainly was -- not a bow misplaced. But the form had no content; there was no meaning to be found in the ensemble's automaton display of syntactics without semantics. It all sounded so glib -- as if the orchestra had complacently allowed itself to treat one of Mozart's greatest works as routine. The tempi were frequently pondersous as well; it was like listening to a Klemperer performance but without the depth.

There were a few better moments in Bruckner's Symphony No. 9, but this performance, too, was clouded by a lack of sponteneity. The Vienna Symphony Orchestra, in short, was a big bore.

Jonathan Richmond->