A "Philharmonic" is a person who loves music. When an orchestra takes that name, it doesn´t mean that it is any less professional than a Symphony, but it adds a sentimental element. Thus we have many organisms that have adopted it, among them the Israel Philharmonic (IP).
The IP is seventyish now (it was born in 1936), the same age as its for-life conductor, Zubin Mehta. Born in
So after five years Mehta and the IP were back to give two benefit concerts for three Jewish organizations at the Gran Rex and one concert at the
The first concert at the Gran Rex was surefire material: two brilliant and rather short tone poems by Richard Strauss –"Don Juan" and "Till Eulenspiegel´s merry pranks"- and Beethoven´s Seventh Symphony. Strauss specially suffered from the opaque, matte acoustics, making it very hard for conductor and orchestra to give us the full richness contained in the music. The interpretations were orthodox and safe and the playing was obviously very good, with virtuoso moments from the concertino and the first horn. The Seventh was more exciting, perhaps because the artists were learning to compensate the defects of the venue but the Beethoven orchestration is less heavy and was allowed to register better; the conductor´s sense of rhythm was a plus. The encores were splendid: Mozart´s Overture for "The Marriage of Figaro" and Johann Strauss II´s splendid polka "Unter Donner und Blitz" ("Under Thunder and Lightning").
Curiously enough, Mahler´s enormous and shattering Ninth Symphony was offered for the third time this season (after Calderón with the National Symphony and Diemecke with the BAP). I have unforgettable memories of the Second under Mehta in an earlier visit of the IP, but then, that was at the Colón…However, was it only the abysmal difference in acoustics or was it also that the outer movements didn´t have quite enough intimacy and metaphysical communication (it is the composer´s adieu to life) and the middle ones lacked bite and sarcasm? Yes, it was all very professional and serious (except a couple of minor mishaps) but I missed the depth of Abbado/Berlin Phil or Haitink/Concertgebouw. And Mehta was wrong in giving an encore, even as an exception to the unwritten rule: after that protracted Adagissimo dissolving into silence, nothing else is possible. Certainly not Piazzolla´s "Adiós Nonino", even in a tasteful string arrangement very well-played.
The Luna Park date was a happy and light occasion. Of course there the sound is amplified, but it was rather well done, except that the second violins were too backward (at least from my lateral seat, where plenty of street noise intruded: trucks revving up beat the orchestral pianissimo). A badly diagrammed hand programme, with no mention of movements, didn´t help the enthusiastic but not very knowledgeable audience to learn when to applaud. But all was well with the music, the orchestra always accurate, warm and fluent, and Mehta completely comfortable in all the scores he chose. The concert started with a tribute to an Argentine composer: Juan José Castro´s charming Overture to "La zapatera prodigiosa". Then, a beautiful and mellow interpretation of that loveliest Beethoven symphony, Nº 6, "Pastoral".
The Second Part started and ended with two Johann Strauss II masterpieces: the Overture to "Die Fledermaus" and the "Emperor Waltz", both played to the manner born (Mehta has always had a soft spot for Viennese music). A rather unexpected choice was Joseph Haydn´s Trumpet Concerto, being so classic and chamberlike, but the Orchestra gave beautiful support to the talented solo player, Yigal Melzer, who strung his notes immaculately, with pure sound and perfect articulation. Then, "Adiós Nonino" (the arrangement was uncredited) before the waltz. The encores: three polkas by Johann II: "Tritsch-Tratsch", a very rare one supposed to be called "Leichte Füsse" (but I couldn´t find it in Grove) and "Unter Donner und Blitz". We all went home elated.
A final remark: Mehta, energetic as always, has found a new welcome vein of tasteful elegance.