Munich Symphony conductor dazzles

In these tough economic times, it’s good to be able to do more than one thing — and even better, two things at once. Philippe Entremont, conductor and soloist for the Munich Symphony Orchestra, unquestionably proved that talent Sunday evening.

Entremont dazzled with his piano mastery during Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 5, op. 73, e-flat major,” also known as the “Emperor Concerto.” When a typical piano soloist might be taking a breath, he was flinging himself into his role as conductor, and he did it all without music or baton.

For the “Emperor,” the grand piano was squarely at center stage, and Entremont’s back was to the audience. He raised his arms and commanded the action whenever both hands were not playing. Sometimes, one hand was in the air, coaxing the next emotional passage, while the other worked the piano. On occasion, he conducted with fists, punching the air gracefully but emphatically, then unclenched and allowed his fingers to fly in the air before they again hit the keys.

The “Emperor” begins with complex, demanding cadence from the pianist. Piano and orchestra are point/counterpoint in a rich dialogue, until the orchestra finally dominates and concludes.

Part two, the adagio, is muted yet expressive, philosophical and yet quite melodic.

Entremont moved to the final section without pause. This familiar passage was a chance for Entremont to shine, revisiting themes established throughout the selection, with impossibly quick passages, dramatic descents of the keyboard and with great skill.

The closing passages brought the timpani and piano together — unlikely instruments in a rhythmic duet — before a brief but brilliant conclusion.

After intermission, Entremont and the orchestra returned with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4, op. 60, b-flat major.” Again, Entremont showed his fine skills as a conductor who believes in his work. His well-disciplined musicians brought forth the underlying tension in an opening adagio that sounded, intentionally, more sinister than romantic. As it continued, it mellowed and brightened a bit, but never calmed.

The second movement, dominated by strings, allowed the capable violinists to develop a more upbeat air, soon echoed by the entire orchestra. Violins set the tone for the woodwinds in the third section as well, with a much more delicate touch throughout the section, all leading to a final, brighter conclusion.

The company returned for an encore of a scherzo from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” another challenging, charming work. Its performance only confirmed that the symphony — and Entremont — were a quality inclusion in the Las Vegas arts calendar.

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