The Flying Dutchman – Overture
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60
Jean Louis Steuerman (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 5 December, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
After Vladimir Jurowski’s recent excursions into less familiar territory, it was very much back to the mainstream for the London Philharmonic with this programme and, initially at least, there was a definite feeling of routine. Conductor and soloist are both Brazilians. Roberto Minczuk is a former horn player and a protégé of Kurt Masur, and is still in the early part of his career. By contrast, having first come to attention in 1972 as prize-winner of the JS Bach Competition Jean Louis Steuerman is now almost something of a veteran.
The overture to “The Flying Dutchman” was not an encouraging opening, full of sound and fury but lacking in heft, the strings frequently overpowered by the brass. Rather than achieving transfiguration at its close, tension ebbed away and the final pages sagged. Compensation was the superb cor anglais solo from Sue Bohling, appropriate enough since it represents the love of Senta whose self-sacrifice is the Dutchman’s salvation.
Only a little better was Schumann’s Piano Concerto which was once more notable for some fine incidental detail – an excellent clarinet solo from Robert Hill in the ‘becalmed’ episode at the heart of the first movement and an atmospheric lead-in to the finale – but contact between conductor and soloist appeared tenuous, the one never so much as glancing at the other. Steuerman is a thoughtful player, certainly not technically infallible – especially in the last movement – but unfailingly musical. However, he was certainly not on best form and the orchestral accompaniment, with an overloud cello tune in the slow movement and making little of the cross rhythms in the finale, did him few favours.
After such an unpropitious first half, the concert was ‘saved’ by an unexpectedly good performance of Dvořák’s glorious Sixth Symphony, now finally becoming almost as regular a feature of the repertoire as his final trio of symphonies. Perhaps the single overriding reason for the success of this performance was that in all four movements the sense of dance was never far away, particularly in the finale, which can sound laboured but here there was a definite spring to the step and a ring of conviction.
Minczuk is not the tidiest of conductors (his beat hardly conducive to good ensemble) and special praise must go to the orchestra’s Leader, Vesellin Gellev, who provided some decisive support at key moments. Devoid of the first-movement exposition repeat, this was hardly the grandest of readings, but the slow movement was rich and warm with its outbursts well-integrated into the texture, the following ‘Furiant’ was slightly too fast for its own good but still with genuine spring, and above all the joyous finale, which made an unusually strong case for a movement that frequently sounds overblown and bombastic.