Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Philharmonia/Mackerras @ Royal Festival Hall, London

9 October 2008

Charles Mackerras was on sparkling form for this concert of Mozart, Bruch and Dvorak, but it was a shame that his infectious joy for the works in hand didn’t always translate into similarly effervescent results from the Philharmonia.

Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Everyone can have an off night, but there was too much scrappy playing and thin string-tone which can only be down to a lack of rehearsal or lack of involvement on the part of the players.

Few, if any, conductors alive today have such an affinity for the works of Mozart as Sir Charles Mackerras has and, having run out of superlatives when reviewing his recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra of Symphonies 38, 39, 40 and 41, expectations ran high for hearing Symphony no 39 in E-flat in the flesh. All the Mackerras Mozart hallmarks were present brisk tempi, every repeat adhered to, transparency of orchestral texture – yet somehow his ideas were only partly realised by the Philharmonia players.

Despite the violins being placed antiphonally much of the first movement lacked clarity and a lot of the finger-work was smudged, which led to a lack of focus. The final movement benefitted from more precision, but overall the performance failed to catch fire.

Maybe the presence of the hugely-talented young violinist Sergey Khachatryan in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 in G Minor had a galvanising effect on the players as this was a performance to cherish. At the tender age of 23, Khachatryan has already garnered favourable notices from his appearances with some of the world’s most famous orchestras and maestri and it’s not hard to see why.

His playing was totally secure and he possesses the ability to produce a wonderful Mahogany-rich tone from his instrument, with the Adagio particularly involving. As yet the sound he produces isn’t particularly individual but that will come.

After the interval we were treated to a wonderfully detailed account of Dvorak’s enigmatic Symphony no 7 in D minor. With this symphony the composer set out to emulate Brahms, and the work stands firmly within the Viennese symphonic tradition. Whereas the Mozart had been tentative, the orchestra sounded fully under the skin of Dvorak’s idiom and, as Mackerras is positively steeped in Czech music, it came as no surprise that conductor and musicians gave such a robust and thrilling account of the score.

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