Three distinguished soloists helped celebrate the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra’s twentieth-anniversary. To Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins (Marios Papadopoulos at the harpsichord) Anne-Sophie Mutter and Maxim Vengerov provided a masterclass in musicianship, their rapport and flawless technique a constant source of inspiration. Through a hard-driven (but not frantic) opening movement, a soulful yet not sentimental Largo and an imperious Finale the music throbbed with vitality and excitement that was infectious, and this conductor-less performance also demonstrated an ensemble attuned to listening to one another, noting every nuance of phrasing and attack.
Much the same could be said of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Martha Argerich combining limpid beauty and sparkling brilliance (arresting for the dynamism of the piano’s opening flourish) with undiminished clarity of execution. The first movement unfolded with elegance and power (languor too), tailor-made in its contradictions for this pianist’s expressive and sometimes-impetuous approach. Refined and well-balanced support drew some winsome woodwind contributions, and in the slow movement the cellos beguiled. The Finale was notable for a ship-shape march, the deft negotiation of the music’s metrical games and the verve of Argerich’s figuration.
Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ gripped from the start, its first movement (without exposition repeat) crackling with energy, forward momentum and abundant detail. Its surging vitality was not just the result of thundering tuttis and incisive and well-defined rhythms, but also the orchestra’s alert response to an impassioned Papadopoulos, at times forsaking a regular beat for a curving left-arm, which ensured attention to phrasing (some fabulous string crescendos and playful woodwinds) and an overriding sweep that brought its own logic. There was plenty of atmosphere in a suspense-filled development (its pianissimo opening freighted with import), and no shortage of fibre in the coda enlivened by Tristan Fry’s penetrating timpani. Gravitas and subtlety of expression, not least from Clara Dent’s oboe, characterised the ‘Funeral March’ in which cumulative tensions, within a broadly-conceived reading, were ideally fashioned, dignity and drama foremost. A fleet-of-foot Scherzo traversing the impish and the rustic (horns impressing in the Trio) led straight into a characterful Finale – propelled with crispness of articulation, vivid colouration (rasping horns) and well-judged tempos; life-enhancing.
- Concert played again at Oxford Town Hall on Monday January 14 (different soloists for the Bach)