Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto in D major owes its existence in part to the Philadelphia Orchestra. While enlisted in the US Army during World War 2, John de Lancie met the composer in Germany and encouraged him to write a formal composition for his instrument. Although Strauss curtly declined the young man’s imploration at the time, a concerto soon followed, given its premiere in Zurich in 1946. Meanwhile, de Lancie joined the Philadelphia Orchestra upon returning to America, becoming principal oboist in 1954. He gave the Orchestra’s premiere of the Strauss concerto in 1964, and soloist duties have fallen to the occupant of that chair ever since. Philippe Tondre, Principal Oboe since 2020, offered his interpretation for the first time on 29th April, under the baton of debuting conductor Matthias Pintscher.

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Philippe Tondre
© Nikolaj Lund

The concerto progresses from a daunting Allegro moderato to a playful, lightly textured Andante, before wrapping up in the final movement with a spirited dance. Tondre approached every aspect of this sequence with a sense of practiced ease. His sound tends toward the lyrical and transparent – a departure from the chestnut-colored sound world of his predecessors in the Philadelphia Orchestra – and that bright, continental tone suited Strauss’ light orchestration ideally. He wasn’t afraid to step on the gas when needed though, as when he sent soaring the cadenzas that open the Vivace section of the final movement. Pintscher matched the energy of his soloist with a lithe orchestral reading that was always supportive, never overpowering.

The Philadelphians also have a history with Anton Webern’s Im Sommerwind, which opened the concert. They gave the belated premiere of this work under Eugene Ormandy in 1962, at a festival in Seattle dedicated to the Austrian composer. Based in part on a lovely poem written by the German intellectual Bruno Wille, it proves a pleasant divertissement, capturing the idyllic existence of the gentry in the countryside in the few peaceful years of the early 20th century. Pintscher emphasized a sense of uninterrupted tranquility – even the stormy passages sounded inviting rather than foreboding. The clarinets danced like birds in the air, while the double harps evoked babbling brooks. First associate concertmaster Juliette Kang handled the myriad violin solos with supreme elegance. If summer always sounded like this, I’d understand why some people never want it to end.

In the second half of the program, Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 3 in A minor proved more of a challenge for Pintscher. The conductor managed as much bombast here as he had refinement in the preceding selections, but the musical journey still lacked a sense of drama to keep the listener engaged. The long first movement seemed somewhat directionless, while the blustery Allegro vivacissimo felt like a race to the finish line. Pintscher hit his stride only in the symphony’s Scherzo, drawing a lively solo from principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales and a vivid sense of tension in the strings.