Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Philharmonia/Jordan @ Royal Festival Hall, London

19 April 2009

Lars Vogt is the compelling soloist in Beethoven’s mighty Emperor Piano Concerto under the persuasive baton of Philippe Jordan.

His playing is assured, confident and technically faultless.

The Philharmonia’s decision to pair Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto with Brahms’ Fourth Symphony may seem on the surface as though it were a ‘safe’ one. Both are core works from the nineteenth century central European repertoire and stand as titans of their type. They are natural bedfellows yet, for me at least, familiarity with both of them certainly doesn’t breed contempt.

Both are fiendishly difficult to bring off successfully in the concert hall so the pairing of these works not only requires a brilliant soloist, but an experienced conductor who can conjure an epic soundscape for both as well, whilst securing well-disciplined playing from the orchestra. The young Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan was not always totally successful in mining the emotional depths of either work, but there were enough flashes of inspiration to compensate.

Lars Vogt however managed to totally get under the skin of the Beethoven and gave a reading that on its own merits was grand, heroic and faultlessly played, yet surprisingly was often at odds with Jordan and the orchestra. Balance often went awry and it was only in the dreamily evocative Adagio that there was a sense of homogeneity between all the performers. The way that Beethoven quietly introduces the theme of the Rondo hesitant, inquisitive before launching into the main theme was deftly handled by Vogt and from then on the performance took wing.

Similarly with the Brahms it took quite a while for the orchestra to get into its stride. The opening motif of the Allegro should inspire a sense of longing and loss in the listener but here we got a sense of weariness, almost boredom. It was Brahms on autopilot, but this malaise didn’t last too long as the Andante had more theatricality and sense of line that really engaged the listener.

The third movement had a headlong propulsion where all sections of the orchestra played at the top of their form which resulted in a vivacious and blazing account of the Allegro giocoso. There was due gravitas in the last movement where both conductor and orchestra finally produced music-making of the highest calibre impassioned and thrilling.

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