Despite the attractive Overture-Concerto-Symphony format this concert was something of a mixed bag, at points very good indeed and at others notably less so. It’s more than fifty years since Vladimir Ashkenazy first appeared in London and nothing he ever does is less than deeply musical; and over the years he has established deep ties with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
However on this occasion inspiration was intermittent, at its strongest in the slow movement and Finale of the Mozart, and in the affectionately gemütlich account of Schubert. The introduction was beautifully atmospheric and the main body of the Overture deliciously sprung with the Philharmonia’s woodwinds suitably rustic in the second subject. Only in the coda were the trombones overbearing.
In Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, the excellent combination of Veronika Eberle and Antoine Tamestit echoed each other perfectly. At the outset of the first movement Eberle’s playing felt a little strained but by the time of the cadenza both players were notably attuned to each other. Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia were poised and the slow movement’s final bars breathed with that suppressed angst which one finds in, say, ‘Porgi amor’.
About the Elgar it is hard to be equally enthusiastic. It was a rambunctious and no-holds-barred account, and for the most part it followed well-trod interpretative paths with sensible tempo. There were though endearing cameos – Karen Stephenson’s dying cello line as the first movement slithers to its sepulchral close, Mark van der Wiel’s dolcissimo clarinet benediction at the end of the Adagio and Laurent Ben Slimane’s ghostly bass clarinet emerging from the darkness at the start of the Finale – but all-too-often the heavy brass was allowed to drown out the strings. Could this partly had to do with three of four players (trombones/tuba) were guests? Whatever the reasons the result was so in-your-face that the law of diminishing returns applied so that the impact of the work’s genuine climaxes (such as the ultimate tremendous and affirmative coda) were undermined, yet another climax amongst so many.