Billed as the “Ode to Joy” concert in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s The Great Classics series, this concert presented two of Beethoven’s most famous works to a near capacity filled Royal Albert Hall. Rather than being a total cause for joy, the evening turned out to be a concert of two halves.
With the first half devoted to the Emperor concerto, Andrew Greenwood led a rather efficient yet effective account of the opening movement. Alexandra Dariescu, making her debut at the Royal Albert Hall, played the solo part in a way that balanced the bravura grand gestures with the more inward looking passages, which demonstrated much in the way of musical intelligence. Overall, Dariescu tended towards a more lyrical reading of Beethoven’s score which showed care in its shaping and execution.
The second movement was given with a sense of tenderness by soloist and orchestra alike, with the latter exploiting the interplay of wind instrumentation that it contains. Therefore, it was more than a little unfortunate that in the Royal Albert Hall’s cavernous acoustic that some of the delicacy of Dariescu’s playing was lost. In the interval, this point did not go without comment by several in the audience around me. The final movement, however, found matters brought to a pleasing and rousing conclusion, with Dariescu meeting the challenge head on. If the enthusiastic audience reception was anything to go by, Alexandra Dariescu established that she is an artist to listen out for in the future.
Andrew Greenwood’s conducting of the Choral symphony started interestingly enough with a good choice of tempo that propelled things along winningly, but after only a little way into the opening movement the reading relaxed into something of a routine that espoused the obvious points that any other reasonable performance might have made. The second movement found much being made of the music’s inner workings, with some sense of character returning because of this. There were issues of balance however since the timpani player was apt to pounce rather too enthusiastically onto his drums. The third movement was arguably the most cogently formed of the four, suitably soft-edged in tone and pastoral in feel so as to recall some of the rusticity in Beethoven’s sixth symphony. Some depth of feeling was brought to the introduction of the fourth movement, although Simon Thorpe’s singing of Beethoven’s famous lines ‘O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere‘ was slightly laboured and lacked the requisite impact. That comment, however, could not be levelled at the combined forces of the Royal and Guildford Choral Societies, who were forthright of tone and well trained. In the sections for solo quartet, tenor Christopher Turner was up to the task, whilst Louise Winter’s purposeful mezzo was often at risk of being overshadowed by Rachel Nicholls’ blustery soprano.
In the end then, overall, these were three star performances, whilst Alexandra Dariescu performed beyond this level.