The Thieving Magpie – Overture
Music for Flute and Orchestra, Op.11
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Sir James Galway (flute)
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 5 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The second of three Royal Festival Hall concerts marking 50 years since Lorin Maazel first conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra was a very short affair (60 minutes of music!). It consisted of three crowd-pleasing numbers and Maazel’s own Music for Flute and Orchestra, the only work here of any great substance. Not that it seemed to matter to a packed Sunday-afternoon audience.
As he approaches 80, Maazel has lost little of his precision and formidable baton technique, always in complete control of everything he surveys. The Rossini overture had all the Maazel trademarks: great precision of ensemble and fabulous attention to dynamics. But tempos were on the slow side; this was a performance that never really got off the ground, lacking humour and the necessary zip and sparkle.
Music for Flute and Orchestra (a concerto in all but name) was composed for James Galway who gave the work its premiere in 1995. Maazel describes the one movement work as “tender, fun-loving, wistful and ebullient”. Some regard this as one of Maazel’s finest works and one of the most important pieces for flute in years. It’s undoubtedly a formidable challenge to any flautist and Sir James’s liquid phrasing and golden tone didn’t disappoint; yet the music’s melange of styles, from cool expressionism to quasi-modernism, is curiously unsatisfying, and the syrupy ‘Song’, the fourth section, takes us fully into Hollywood territory. Full marks though to the virtuosity of the performance from both the orchestra and Sir James.
The concert’s second half was a disappointment. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was well played, Maazel setting a decent tempo with springy rhythms and with clear articulation from the Philharmonia. The brass was particularly clean and biting. However, there was a palpable lack of fun and mischief and Maazel curiously slowing the whole thing down around five minutes in did nothing to help.For anyone finding it hard to disassociate the piece from Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”, this was a rather world-weary Mickey Mouse!
Boléro was similarly afflicted by Maazel’s idiosyncratic approach. A fine steady tempo to start with, with solos full of character from the Philharmonia’s principals. Dynamics were superb, the graduation of volume from a whisper to a roar faultless. The steady tempo didn’t last though and there was a quite noticeable speeding up towards the end and then a bizarre ‘jump’ just before the final thunderous bars. Like the Rossini and the Dukas the performance felt curiously grounded and detached.
- Lorin Maazel conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall on 7 April (with Han-Na Chang)
- Philharmonia Orchestra
- Philharmonia Orchestra information:
Freephone 0800 652 6717
- Southbank Centre