Undressed mezzos. Larry Rachleff's farewell. Rhode Island Philharmonic, May 5 at the Vets.
Music director Larry Rachleff said farewell to the Rhode Island Philharmonic Saturday evening. In an emotional and unintentionally humorous performance at the Vets, Rachleff conducting the orchestra for the final time, performing music of Debussy, Canteloube and Strauss.
Rachleff leaves after 21 years. The orchestra will use a series of guest conductors next season, hoping to choose one of them as his replacement. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s principal horn James Sommerville and assistant conductor Ken-David Masur are among the group.
It was the first time I’ve seen Rachleff work, and I’m sorry for that, after this performance. This is a conductor who does not take even a measure off, but still leads his ensemble with respect. Not over-conducting, but intensely conducting.
The humor came after Debussy’s introductory “L’Après-midi d’une faune,” when Rachleff’s wife, mezzo Susan Lorette Dunn, was supposed to take the stage for the Canteloube “Chants d’Auvergne.” She didn’t.
Rachleff took the mike and explained that her dress had “become undressed.” For a few uncomfortable minutes he channeled his best Victor Borge to stall for time. He even ventured a story about seeing a naked woman in the lobby of a Geneva hotel.
Dunn finally appeared, fully clothed, a put a contralto’s spin on Canteloube's coquettish, charming and extraordinary settings.
Rachleff closed with Strauss’s “Alpine Symphony,” a work he chose “because it ends quietly,” among other reasons. He noted that Strauss’s journey up and down the Alps “is really our journey.”
The Philharmonic played their hearts out. Bass and winds especially stayed the course throughout the work—no easy task, with so many exposed moments. There were many tears onstage as the final notes faded off. It was a pleasure to be in the room.