Orozco-Estrada and Phila. Orch bring more introspection, less alacrity to Dvorák, Brahms

OROZCO
COnductor Andres Orozco-Estrada led the Philadelphia Symphony in a program of Brahms and Dvorak on Feb. 4, 2015, at the Kimmel Center. Photo: Werner Kmetitsch

In the yin and yang of conductors, there are those who blossom in extroverted moments, and those who excel at bringing light and detail into quiet interior passages.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada is still grappling with the former, but he laid down the latter in many a lovely shade Thursday night in his Philadelphia Orchestra debut in Verizon Hall. The 38-year-old music director of the Houston Symphony deferred to his somewhat prosaic soloist, Augustin Hadelich, in the Brahms Violin Concerto, and brought some valuable interpretive insights to Dvorák's Symphony No. 7.

But it was in Barber's Overture to the School for Scandal that Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra hit upon their most fully evolved statement. This piece, a staple of radio and concert hall, occupies the position of energetic curtain-raiser, and high-spirited it certainly is in places. But it is also a concise preview of a much deeper range that would later come from the 21-year-old mind that produced it. Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra zeroed in on its most alluring qualities: an inner glow that dwells in the spirit of goodness, and a curious pastoral lightness.

The conductor laid out a range of tempos that maintained a continuum while allowing for spots of liberal expression from individual players and sections. The character of the piece shifted often and seamlessly. Oboist Richard Woodhams was the voice of reason and reassurance, and flutist David Cramer the flighty spirit of gossip in the Sheridan comedy of manners from whose social antics Barber drew inspiration.

I wished at least some of this sense of alacrity had seeped into the Brahms, which, given what's possible with the piece, missed opportunities for sweetness and heat in the first movement. The Juilliard-trained Hadelich had impeccable technique (especially impressive in his steel-cut Paganini Caprice No. 5 encore), and his rich sound projected with a security that was even in all ranges. But it was all very careful, and, in the end, it was hard to say how he really felt. It would be valuable to have him back in other repertoire that might better resonate with his artistic temperament.

The orchestra's marketing materials for this concert make the case for a Brahms connection to Dvorák and Barber (the website blurb suggests Barber as "the American Brahms"), but this misses the point. Dvorák's love of Brahms is well-established, but Orozco-Estrada, with the considerable possibilities of the Symphony No. 7 before him, emphasized the leader of Brahms' opposing artistic camp, Wagner. It wasn't in the work's peril-edged outer movements that Wagner came through, but in the introspective second movement. The conductor left space open for his own elegant turns of phrase, while allowing solo voices - particularly winds - the leisure to hand off singing phrases from one to the other.

He gave no special treatment to that marvelous Tristan moment a little more than halfway through that slow movement but took time to highlight sparse string figures that put you, briefly but unmistakably, in the Wagnerian shadow.

Additional performance: 8 p.m. Saturday at the Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce Streets. Tickets: $10-$105. Information: www.philorch.org or 215-893-1999.

pdobrin@phillynews.com

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