International Conductors’ Academy

Beethoven
Concerto for piano, violin and cello in C, Op.56
Strauss
Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Birtwistle
The Triumph of Time

Mihaela Ursuleasa (piano)
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Jean-Philippe Tremblay
Gustavo Dudamel
Eva Ollikainen


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 June, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The full name is the International Conductors’ Academy of the Allianz Cultural Foundation. It involves the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia orchestras and their respective Principal Conductors, Kurt Masur and Christoph von Dohnányi, who choose three conductors for a season’s training programme that culminates in a shared concert. This wasn’t a competition!

Jean-Philippe Tremblay (French-Canadian) drew the short straw in being allotted the Beethoven; his conducting was attentive, the Philharmonia’s response professional, the result somewhat anonymous; and a couple more double basses than four would have added requisite weight. The soloists were hardly an integrated group. Mihaela Ursuleasa was a lively contributor; likeable in her unaffected and engaged response and one of the few pianists who takes seriously Beethoven’s request for the sustaining pedal at the very end. Jean-Guihen Queyras proved a discriminating cellist, a chamber musician of excellence who doesn’t seek a fat or luscious tone; yet he never quite got the shape of the finale’s main idea and he was too easily tempted to follow Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s attempts at humour in this movement, which fell flat. She was a distraction through most of the performance with her immature exaggerations.

The second half juxtaposed the Strauss and Birtwistle pieces. Death and Transfiguration proved the concert’s highpoint and introduced Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel. His technique may be rather marionette-like but he produced an account of the Strauss that was admirably played and led from the front. Although the opening lacked for gloom – it was rather pastoral and impressionistic – the sound he produced was notably distinct. Dudamel conjured a vibrant and free-flowing account, which in its flexibility, dramatic impulse and shapely expressiveness was very impressive; the music seemed free and inexorable one at the same time and seemed to hark bark to a time when music was played as the most natural thing in the world. Rudolf Kempe came to mind. On the strength of this performance, Gustavo Dudamel is a conductor with an impressive future.

Eva Ollikainen (Finnish) arrived at the podium in an animated and carefree manner. She plotted the course of Birtwistle’s The Triumph of Time very assuredly, yet something was missing. This masterpiece is now 33 years old (and had its premiere in the Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Philharmonic under Lawrence Foster), a slow processional that can be hair-raising (which Vernon Handley memorably produced it as in this hall in 1994, also RPO, and there was an intense account there from Rattle and the CBSO circa 1997). Under Ollikainen, and despite a well-rehearsed response, the music was short of danger and darkness, and the journey towards climaxes (which were not seismic enough) lacked implacable grinding, the work as a whole not cathartic enough. It’s a question of degrees – this was very good, if maybe too considered and lacking tension. And the requirement for some percussion instruments and the soprano saxophone to be amplified meant that amplifier hiss through the loudspeakers was distractingly audible! Given the composer was present, one can hardly argue about this procedure, although I don’t recall Handley or Rattle taking the electronic route save, maybe, this option for the sax. Too comfortable probably sums up this present account – but it was good to hear this piece again, and Ollikainen seems an unflappable conductor. Sir Harrison seemed delighted with the performance. The Philharmonia has recorded The Triumph of Time, under Elgar Howarth, for NMC.



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