LPO Otaka

Karelia – Suite, Op.11
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55

Julian Rachlin (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Tadaaki Otaka

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 3 November, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

This was very much an old-fashioned meat and two veg concert. An orchestral ‘overture’, a concerto, and a big symphony. The opening Sibelius went well, Tadaaki Otaka chose moderate tempos throughout and sprung the rhythms in the outer movements beautifully; in the central ‘Intermezzo’ the clarinet and oboe passages were a little flat and the string phrasing slightly self indulgent, but it was nevertheless a fine start to the evening.

Julian Rachlin has been making a name for himself, but his account of the Mendelssohn came as a severe disappointment. His tone is very small and even with the string sections each reduced by two desks he didn’t really have the ability to ride and cut through the orchestra. His tone also doesn’t have a compensating richness and this again lessened the impact of the playing. He also has a small dynamic range and in the first movement cadenza I longed to hear a greater variety and range of tone and dynamics. Rachlin is also very self-effacing; his introductory entry and statement of the first theme was very clean, with nothing so horribly old-fashioned as a slide or even rubato being allowed to intrude. But every time the theme re-appeared it sounded exactly the same. In the development everything was literal, there was no interpretative intervention; it was all rather faceless. The slow movement was sung but there was no real soul to the playing. In the last movement Rachlin was more successful, his refined approach better suited the sprung bouncy nature of the music and the tempo was reasonably fast. At the risk of being labelled anachronistic, I happen to think that to be a great soloist you have to have a big ego and huge self-confidence and belief in your interpretative powers. Rachlin lacks these qualities at present.

After the interval we had one of the last century’s greatest symphonies in a very ripe and romantic performance. The famous opening of Elgar 1 is very difficult to bring off; it should have that elusive ‘nobilmente’ quality – a term that everyone assumes they know what it means even if they can’t define it! Otaka took this idée fixe at a steady tempo but failed to capture all of the melancholy and yearning that is there, so the march rhythm became rather level. Things improved after this, the two subsidiary themes were well characterised and the second subject proper sounded almost like Rachmaninov, the sweeping ‘appassionato’ development fast with loud and incisive brass, but, again, when the opening march came to the fore at anything less than forte some atmosphere and power was lost.

The scherzo received a very strong performance with virtually no relaxation of tempo for the trio, although I would have liked a bit more definition from the lower strings. In the great slow movement the string playing was very romantic, Boult would have turned in his grave, but it was a totally valid and convincing response to the score. In the Lento introduction to the finale there was a clear sense of forward movement, which permeated the whole. The huge final statement of the opening march with its off-beat chords was entirely satisfying as was the brief coda. A very fine Elgar One.

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