This program is repeated Sunday at 2 p.m. Information here.
Although orchestra programs are set years in advance, they sometimes presage events in a way that makes them strangely relevant by the time they reach the stage. Rudolf Buchbinder’s Verizon Hall appearance Friday night with the Philadelphia Orchestra coming so soon after Wolfgang Sawallisch’s death brought symbolic as well as practical implications. The Viennese pianist was a close Sawallisch associate, and after the conductor was too ill to return to fulfill his laureate duties, Buchbinder would arrive here as soloist with the maestro’s greeting in hand.
Buchbinder this time brought added artistic assent. The two shared musical elegance and a penetrating understanding of the composer’s intent. With the added podium authority of Christoph von Dohnányi – he having arrived at 83 handsome and nimble – Friday night was about as close as any will ever get again to a Sawallisch-esque experience.
Not that the orchestra itself sounded like his. Dohnányi brought out high-contrast shaded colors in Lutoslawski’s Funeral Music (yes, this piece too was decided on long ago). Waxing and waning, threaded with tritones (a musical interval precisely, if unsettlingly, halfway between the octave), the piece memorializes Bartók without imitating him. It was a smart way to pay homage to the orchestra’s strings, especially at a climactic moment of great color: like a genie rushing back into his lamp, a cluttered divided part gathers chaotic energy before gathering into a terrific unison.