Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88
Emanuel Ax (piano)
Christoph von Dohnányi
Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday, September 09, 2002
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The final week of the Proms, which affords a snap shot of the state of four of the five London Symphony Orchestras (a week, unusually, without international visitors), opened with Christoph von Dohnányi bringing his Philharmonia Orchestra to the Proms for only the second time since becoming Principal Conductor in 1997 (in 2000 Slatkin came with them; last year Renée Fleming and Eschenbach). It was certainly good to see him back on the Albert Hall platform.
As for his final Cleveland Orchestra performances as Music Director at the Barbican in June, Dohnányi is as clear-sighted as ever in how he wants his performances to sound: no unfussy interpretative interpolations, just fidelity to the score. For some this sounds emotionally bland, but I revel in hearing what composers ask for, and as here scores suddenly sound new.
That Dohnányi seems to have mellowed was apparent in the opening work, a spirited, almost impish performance of Strausss Till Eulenspiegel, with the Philharmonia players (including no less than four percussionists with football rattles a humorous exception to Dohnányis fidelity to the printed score: Strauss asks for one!) revelling in Strausss musical characterisations. Often this vast orchestral pantomime can seem laboured and hackneyed. Not here, and Dohnányi risked some wry smiles along the way.
I warmed equally to the Beethoven concerto and Dvořák symphony.Emanuel Ax was typically precise in his enormously satisfying assumption of the solo part, managing to keep his concentration through the hugely disruptive barrage of coughing (particularly in the slow movement), while the slimmed-down Philharmonia offered secure support. I was taken by surprise by the first movement cadenza stated to be by Beethoven but much more robust than I had remembered, which Ax played for all it was worth. Bravo!
Dohnányis non-interventionist approach suited Dvořáks delightful work exceedingly well, the Philharmonia on fine form with its Principal Conductor.I hope that Dohnányi will be constant conductor from the Philharmonias annual Prom from now on it is a partnership that is helping to bring Londons orchestral life back into the very highest league.