Philadelphia Orchestra back with performance featuring new principal oboist

by Michael Caruso
Posted 1/27/21

After a hiatus for the Christmas/New Year holidays, the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to its virtual 2020-21 season with a concert highlighting the talents of its newly appointed principal oboe, Philippe Tondre.

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Philadelphia Orchestra back with performance featuring new principal oboist

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After a hiatus for the Christmas/New Year holidays, the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to its virtual 2020-21 season with a concert highlighting the talents of its newly appointed principal oboe, Philippe Tondre. The program featured music by Joseph Bologne (Chevalier de Saint-Georges), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn. It was available online from Jan. 14 through 21.

Of Anglo-Alsatian parentage, Tondre follows in the footsteps at the Philadelphia Orchestra of three of the most influential oboists in the history of instrument: Marcel Tabuteau, John de Lancie and Richard Woodhams. Tabuteau was credited with establishing the distinctive sound of American oboe-playing: more mellow, less tart, and more lyrical than the style typical of other European oboists in the early 20th century.

When he came to Philadelphia at the behest of the Orchestra’s legendary music director, Leopold Stokowski, he also assumed the position of oboe instructor at the Curtis Institute of Music. As such, he not only taught his two successors, de Lancie and Woodhams, he molded the techniques and tones of dozens of other great oboists who took up posts in orchestras all across America and Europe.

For the first time since Tabuteau’s retirement in 1954, his chair will not be held by a player trained in his specific school. And yet, because Tabuteau’s influence was so great even beyond his studio at Curtis and within the American musical establishment, the European-trained Tondre’s playing couldn’t possibly be heard as anything other than completely within that tradition.

Although both Bologne’s Symphony No. 2 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 proffer countless opportunities for the principal oboe player to shine in delightful solos, it was in Mozart’s Oboe Concerto that local audiences had the chance to fully appreciate Tondre’s distinctive gifts.

These include unimpeded breath control, an arching control over the shape of the melodic line, a broad command over dynamics, an immaculate sense of pitch, an impeccable feel for articulation, especially for classical ornaments and embellishments, a full palette of width and speed of vibrato, and a melting yet focused quality of tone.

Tondre caught the operatic brilliance of the first movement Allegro, the gentle intimacy of the second movement Adagio non troppo, and the heartiness of Mozart’s serpentine melody in the closing Rondo Allegretto. Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin proffered expert support.

Born in Guadeloupe, Joseph Bologne was a multi-faceted gentlemen of 18th century France who combined musical talent with great accomplishments as a fencer among many other endeavors. His Second Symphony is a model of eloquence and elegance, yet both these qualities are enhanced by an exemplary sense of motivic development and transparent orchestration. Nezet-Seguin elicited energetic playing from the Philadelphians.

Haydn’s “Trauersinfonie” No. 44 comes from the dramatic middle period of his stylistic development. Its first movement Allegro con brio bristles with edgy rhythms and spiky harmonies. The second movement Menuetto balances aristocratic charm with gossamer grace, the third movement Adagio proffers silken melodies, and the Presto Finale drives to its conclusion with sizzling intensity.

Nezet-Seguin oversaw playing of burning power and enveloping lyricism. The Philadelphia Orchestra may not be world famous for its performances of the classical 18th century repertoire but, under Nezet-Seguin’s inspired and inspiring baton, that may be about to change.

AMERICAN SONG

Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts will present “A Celebration of American Composers” Feb. 6 through 10. The recital, directed by pianist Luke Housner, will be available online. Visit www.avaopera.org for more information.

You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net

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