FIRST, a swift kick in the pants to Las Vegas Philharmonic management, who just couldn’t resist playing with The Smith Center’s giant projection screen. Saturday night’s season opener was derailed by an interminable, didactic and fatuous “explainer” of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Maurice Ravel’s orchestration thereof, an AV presentation that turned Pictures into a classroom lecture with orchestral footnotes.
But nothing obscured the polish and passion of the Philharmonic’s playing under guest conductor Andrew Grams, who had the orchestra sounding like a first-division ensemble. Ravel’s Pictures instrumentation had an immensely deep, translucent blend, dappled with subtle flashes of color and underpinned by a tooth-rattling bass line. Some rapid woodwind playing was unkempt but the rapid-fire “Limoges” vignette episode danced on the head of a pin. Grams put careful emphasis on Mussorgsky’s liturgical themes, setting up a cathartic payoff in “The Great Gate of Kiev.”
Grams seemed less to be trying out for the Philharmonic podium as auditioning the orchestra. Following an unusually dignified and moving arrangement of the national anthem, Grams added Gioacchino Rossini’s William Tell Overture to the scheduled program. A virtuoso piece, it exposed Philharmonic players to close scrutiny, and they delivered. Galvanized by Grams’ fiery interpretation, the Philharmonic responded, whether in the divisi cello writing or the intertwining solos for English horn (Mike Brunson) and flute (Alexander Vlazovtsev). Violin tone was featherweight, especially in the delightful bouncing-bow figurations of the “Lone Ranger” gallop.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto completed the program. It’s not a top-drawer work, and Nevah Perlman’s pianism couldn’t mask busywork writing. Violinist Philippe Quint and cellist Zuill Bailey fared considerably better and made tone as one.
For their part, Philharmonic subscribers brought coughs aplenty. Reynolds Hall’s acoustics magnified every one with loving clarity.