London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko – Tchaikovsky programme – Manfred Symphony and Augustin Hadelich plays the Violin Concerto

Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Manfred – Symphony in B minor after Byron, Op.58

Augustin Hadelich (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 24 February, 2016
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vasily PetrenkoPhotograph: Mark McNultyI soon forgot my surprise at not being offered an overture as the artists launched into a memorable account of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Augustin Hadelich took a poetic view of the music which was enhanced by the beautiful tone that he elicited from his 1723 Stradivarius. Vasily Petrenko’s direction could hardly have been more appropriate; using slightly reduced strings, the London Philharmonic played with an expressive clarity matching that of the soloist. Elegance and beauty of tone were features of Hadelich’s playing and there was welcome avoidance of those ‘traditions’ which sometimes hinder the fluent tunefulness of this richly romantic work: there was none of the heavy anticipatory slowing before the orchestra expounds a noble melody. As for the fierce passagework Tchaikovsky often employs, Hadelich realises that this is an accompaniment and not a virtuoso display and he integrated it within the orchestral texture.

A characteristic of this reading of the extensive opening movement was fluency, and the cadenza was integrated into the structure. This unaffected approach made the movement almost symphonic in nature and there was a thrilling orchestral coda. Throughout, Hadelich’s control of dynamics was a noteworthy feature with subtle delicacy in the quiet moments especially in the ‘Canzonetta’ and here the LPO’s playing was entirely with the soloist’s approach. The Finale was very swift and technically immaculate; how wonderful to hear those demanding moments played with such panache yet incorporated into the overall conception – the coda was amazingly fast and this worked brilliantly because of the stunning precision.

Augustin HadelichPhotograph: augustin-hadelich.comAfter such a fine display of musicianship, an encore hardly seemed necessary but Hadelich’s gentle rendering of the Andante from a J. S. Bach Sonata was very comforting – appropriately he used less vibrato here than in the Concerto.

Some have suggested that Manfred is really Tchaikovsky’s ‘Seventh Symphony’ (it was composed between numbers 4 and 5) but the music is so often influenced by Byron’s drama that it becomes discursive. There is a midsummer-night’s-dream effect in the outer parts of the Scherzo – intensely swift here – surrounding a gorgeous melody which would easily have dwelt in one of his great ballets, and similarly the pastoral slow movement is also sufficiently bucolic perhaps to have warranted being entitled ‘Intermezzo’ because there is peacefulness and a bit of gentle peasant-dancing.

Petrenko’s technique is admirably undemonstrative and absolutely clear and he drew superb playing from the LPO. The heavy brass played as one unit and with great expression – the collective warmth seems to have been influenced by Tchaikovsky’s use of mellower-toned cornets where normally one might expect trumpets on the upper line. The scoring is almost over-generous yet everything made an impact – not least the extravagant array of percussion, the very brief appearance of an organ towards the end, and the modest contribution of the two harps had great charm.

Faced with what is in effect a sequence of four tone-poems, Petrenko interpreted the music with conviction, from the menace of the broadly-paced introduction to the colourful reading of the fragmentary Finale which begins dramatically but partway through subsides uncertainly. Tchaikovsky then adopts the composer’s salvation – when in doubt write a fugue – and the definition and tension imbued by the LPO’s strings was a highpoint of this immensely skilled performance.

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