Dallas — No one could have been more disappointed that Jaap van Zweden canceled his appearance at this week's Dallas Symphony concerts than the intense pianist Rudolf Buchbinder. Scheduled to play Beethoven’s monumental “Emperor” piano concerto, the Beethoven specialist was expecting to scale its significant heights with the equally intense van Zweden. Instead, when van Zweden cancelled for “unexpected family reasons,” he found the very non-intense James Feddeck on the podium.
The mismatch was evident right from the start. The concerto starts with the piano offering impressive passages that are punctuated by big chords in the orchestra. Feddeck’s loud but polite chords were no match for Buchbinder’s fiery pronouncements, which were only marred by excessive use of the sustaining pedal. And so it went.
The two tried to merge, or at least make an uneasy alliance of their two completely different approaches to Beethoven. However, the effect was like hearing two different but concurrent performances of the same piece.
Left on his own conducting the second piece on the program, a reading of Beethoven’s even more monumental “Eroica” symphony, Feddeck’s approach to the composer was on full display as was his approach to the art of conducting.
At first, it seemed he was impressive and taking his own path, rather than the tried and true. But as the symphony progressed, without the red-hot Buchbinder to offset his, shall we say, more reserved approach, questions started to arise.
On the podium, he displays immaculate baton technique—although not error free—that somehow lacks precision, causing some harrowing moments. This dichotomy was typical of his entire performance. He seemed hot but his results were cool. He seemed to be in absolute control but his results were scattered.
His Beethoven “Eroica,” one of the most revolutionary and towering works in the repertoire, was on Prozac all evening. Beethoven’s fires were all extinguished and the coals scattered. Tempi were odd and sometimes didn’t recover from nuance.
However, is this approach valid? Well, of course it is. Is it unusual? Ditto. His conducting controversies aside, such as conducting the hemiola passages as though they were re-barred, his more controlled approach to the symphony revealed some of its usually stormed over delights. While I am glad to have heard it, I do not think that Beethoven would have been all that pleased.
So, who is Fedderk? He is a young Oberlin-trained conductor who has a reputation for being able to step-in at the last moment to prevent a cancellation of a concert—as he did here.
Andrew Stewart, writing for Reingold Publishing on April 18, 2016 said:
“The 32-year-old stepped in at seriously short notice last year to conduct acclaimed performances of everything from Bruckner’s monumental eighth symphony with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to Beethoven Five with the Hallé [Orchestra]. ‘It’s a little daunting to take over at the last minute,’ he notes. ‘But it’s great fun!’”
The question is, for whom?