The Royal Festival Hall was filled to capacity for this Saturday evening concert, no doubt attracted by the appealing programme of Dvork, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
It helped that the Philharmonia Orchestra was joined by two renowned musicians, violinist Viktoria Mullova and conductor Paavo Jrvi.
Jrvi is a relatively infrequent visitor to London, not surprising given his busy schedule as Music Director of both the Cincinnati Symphony and Frankfurt Radio Symphony orchestras and his role as Artistic Leader of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. From 2010 he additionally assumes the position of Music Director of Orchestre de Paris. It was therefore good to see him fitting in a guest appearance with the Philharmonia.
The first performance of the evening, Dvork’s Carnival Overture, was a notable success. The vibrancy of the opening – percussion perfectly judged – was matched by the deeply felt central section featuring solo violin and cor anglais. The high voltage playing that Jrvi summoned for the closing pages brought the sort of applause normally heard only at the end of a concert.
The account of Brahms’s Violin Concerto which followed was on a similar level. Mullova played with an attractive combination of classical purity and inner intensity, bringing poetry to her phrasing but carefully avoiding any sense of sentimentality, while Jrvi’s accompaniment was notable for both its muscular strength and hushed mystery. A flowing tempo for the Adagio resulted in the movement taking little more than eight minutes, but the result had a compelling advocacy, aided immeasurably by the Philharmonia’s superb woodwind and Gordon Hunt’s sublime oboe solos. With Mullova’s energetic and virtuosic account of the finale, this was altogether a memorable performance.
Jrvi’s direction of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony was particularly dynamic, his right arm shaping phrases with large sweeping circles, his left guiding rhythms down to the last quaver, his gaze directed to every section of the orchestra. The Philharmonia responded with playing of energy and panache – perhaps too much so in the case of the first movement, which ended up sounding a little harried and unsympathetic, not helped by overly loud trombones.
The Andante cantabile was better, a gorgeous account of the opening horn solo by Lasse Mauritzen matched by more excellent woodwind playing. However, the movement as a whole seemed less than the sum of its parts, and the following waltz movement was a little undermined by the lack of divided violins. The final movement was again notable for the energy of the playing (and loud trombones!), but failed to convey much sense of occasion. The result lacked the deeper engagement with the music which had been such a feature of the concert’s first half.