In Natures Realm, Op.91 Mozart
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488 Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14
Maria João Pires (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras - 25th June
Tuesday, June 25, 2002 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
If I hadnt known Sir Charles Mackerras was conducting I wouldnt have guessed despite clues such as enthusiasm and energy. The music was alive, no doubt about that or the Philharmonias response committed and resourceful, group character overriding less than precise ensemble to project the spirit of the pieces.
Mackerras doesnt aspire to sensationalism; hes far too good a musician for that. Nevertheless, Berliozs boundary-breaking symphony lacked poise and consideration. The second movement waltz brought smiles from the players; they were having A Ball, yet Mackerrass driving of the coda rendered it shapeless. Similarly, at the close of the Witches Sabbath, Mackerras pushed hard on the accelerator, which brought the house down. All I heard was noise! This movement brought a miscalculation of balance. The bells positioned off-stage were fine for their solo peal if not timbrally doom-laden enough (Berlioz left precise instructions as to what he wanted) yet virtually inaudible against the brass. The March to the Scaffold surely designed by Berlioz for the audience-member whose mobile rung in the preceding movement was neither fated or savage enough; Berlioz seems to have wanted a very deliberate tempo; this allows the timpani rhythm to really lay bare the morbidity, a presage of something terrifying. Mackerras bid the trombones farts be dominant; intended as underscoring this effect became irritating. Tuttis were shrill Boulezs censure of Berlioz for over-trebling his harmony seemed justified.
On the plus side, the reveries and passions of the first movement were vibrantly conveyed wild, impulsive and volatile and Mackerras revealed just how indebted Berlioz was to Beethoven in the country scene third movement; the allusions to the Pastoral Symphony quite striking here. Surprising, given Mackerrass Czech connections, that Dvoraks own communion with nature was tense and rushed; this was a hike with little wonderment of the landscape.
Maria João Pires offered Mozart rather than Schumanns concerto. Curious that Mackerras put his violins together for this when the antiphonal arrangement used for the other music would have been just as pertinent. Piress light-toned Yamaha (preferred to the RFHs Steinway) was a delight, as was her poetic and sensitive playing. The Finale could have been more varied the episodes seemed to come round once too often the soloist sometimes gabbling rather than articulating. Her integration with the small orchestra, the soulful slow movement and the Orchestras typically personable woodwind stole the concert an intimate moment in a hyperactive concert.