Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Philharmonia/Dohnanyi @ Royal Festival Hall, London

30 October 2008

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Although the need to book conductors and soloists far in advance must make life complicated for concert programmers, one must question the wisdom of offering London audiences three different performances of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony in two months. It was no doubt the reason for the less than capacity attendance at this concert.

Those choosing this particular performance, however, would not have been disappointed. The concert opening with Mozart’s wonderful Sinfonia Concertante, which shares the symphony’s key of E flat. Although the playing of the Philharmonia under Christoph von Dohnnyi lacked a little sparkle during the first movement, Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid and British violist Rachel Roberts were splendid soloists. In particular, Schmid was totally involved in the performance, his playing a compelling mix of lyricism and depth.

Although almost three times the number of players were on stage after the interval, the playing of the tremolando strings at the beginning of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony was so gentle that it was almost impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when the music started. This led into a performance of the first movement which featured steady tempos and a strong sense of forward momentum, instilled with a sense of excitement and mystery.

The symphony’s Andante is perhaps Bruckner’s most intractable movement, but Dohnnyi presided over an atmospheric and nuanced performance, with very expressive violas, while the Scherzo was notable for the accuracy and driving energy of the playing, with a particularly strong contribution from the double basses.

The writer of the programme note who dismissed the music of the Finale as “unmemorable and often trite” should have been at this performance. Dohnnyi led an account of the movement where every episode seemed an essential part of the symphony journey, the contrasting demonic and lyrical episodes leading inexorably to a stirring account of the symphony’s majestic coda.

Throughout the symphony there was a palpable sense of commitment from the Philharmonia players, which added enormously to the impact of the performance.


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