Critic-at-Large
12:10 pm
Fri July 31, 2009

Philadelphia Orchestra, John Axelrod, conducts Herbie Hancock, Lang Lang, pianos


There's a reason Ralph Vaughan Williams Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in C Major is rarely performed it's long with changing rhythms. It can get intellectual. The dreamy melodies go off on tangents like labyrinths.

Concert Review: Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang Perform with the Famous Philadelphians for the Orchestra's Summer Finale at the Mann

Its wandering nature suits the jazzman Herbie Hancock's amazing tone. How brave at 69 to buckle down and learn the work with Lang Lang and to play it outdoors. The program the pals shared at the Philadelphia Orchestra's finale at the Mann Music Center Thursday night was fun and frustrating because the program was so itself so long--3 ? hours--and so bulked up. The concert on the humid night drew?? 7,000 and those in the shed were not well behaved. Latecomers, people changing seats; the kid with the iPhone, the woman sneaking pictures.

When the Vaughan Williams concerto was over, the shed emptied out. We weren't at intermission yet. There remained Ravel's Mother Goose Suite for piano four hands, another challenge because it is such quiet music. Lang Lang took the bottom parts, Hancock the treble. The result was sublime--until the returning listeners began their variations on the cough, the sneeze. ?After the break, Lang Lang sat down and played (Liszt's) Leibestraum' then he and Hancock did an improv on a Chinese folk song. It wasn't as fetching as Hancock's solo medley which showed the master's use of space and depth. Voyage and Bedtime, Cantelope Island: Hancock built and pondered, delved and I wanted more. The pianist-composer knows line and motion.

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, arranged for two pianos, was played for too many laughs, the artists tugging at their improv, conductor John Axelrod mugging between them to show us what to hear. More fun for them than us, I suspect, though the house was roused? More enjoyable had the evening not gone on so long. It was past 11 o'clock. When the Gershwin was done, the audience leapt to its feet, cheering but keen to leave. The pianists would have stayed all night it seemed but after one more piece gave up. The orchestra had long gone.