Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Philharmonia/Dudamel @ Royal Festival Hall, London

5 June 2008

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel needs no introduction these days. He burst onto the musical scene with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra a few years ago and has rarely been out of the headlines since.

He has been compared to the young Simon Rattle, and on the basis of this extraordinary concert it’s not hard to see why.

This was an evening of music-making of the highest calibre.

Yes, there’s been a lot of hype, but in this case the hype is more than justified. The first half of this concert with the Philharmonia was devoted to one work: Brahms’ majestic 1st Piano Concerto. The opening, a drum roll and tutti strings lacked focus and ensemble was a bit touch and go, but once soloist Piotr Anderszewski began playing, everything came together and the rest of the performance was astonishingly assured.

The portentous nature of the first movement makes way for a hauntingly beautiful Adagio which Brahms composed as a portrait of Clara Schumann here the rapport between soloist and conductor was evident in their scrupulous attention to dynamics and phrasing whilst the final movement had the requisite headlong propulsion. Anderszewski’s interpretation was at turns bold, introspective and assured and for an encore he treated the audience to a spellbinding rendition of the Sarabande from Bach’s first Partita.

After the interval, Dudamel (conducting from memory) and the orchestra launched into a coruscating account of Shostakovich’s mighty Fifth Symphony. From the opening string motifs, imbued with menace and a sense of foreboding, it was a clear that this was going to be no run-of-mill performance.

And so it proved. Dudamel drew quite phenomenally assured playing from all departments and caught the essence of this ambiguous score from the start. The rustic peasant dance, the Lndler, of the second movement has never sounded so sardonic whilst the sense of despair and yearning which characterises the slow movement was beautifully emoted by the string sections in particular. Here Dudamel allowed the music to breathe and the result was at once beautiful and heart-breaking.

The finale was taken at such a breakneck speed that one expected it to fall apart at any point yet it was that very sense of danger and abandonment that really set the pulses racing as the symphony reached its inexorable climax. Within seconds of the final orchestral crash the capacity audience was on its feet cheering both conductor and orchestra. A shattering performance.

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