Mikko Franck Shostakovich 10

Sibelius
Karelia – Overture, Op.10
Grieg
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Shostakovich
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93

Simon Trpčeski (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Mikko Franck


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 May, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The conundrum aspects of Mikko Franck’s character might prove a diversion to recognising his achievements as a musician. His requirement for a chair, placed on the podium, has in the past been something of a prop, although at this concert he made much use of it. Yet, his vigorous walk on and off the platform suggests no obvious need for this ‘aid’ – maybe his serious childhood illness casts a shadow. When he does stand, it is on the floor – also typical (although the chair itself allows no alternative) – and while his conducting gestures are for the orchestra, and for the music, and his acknowledgement of the audience is fairly brusque, his apparent (welcome) lack of self-celebrity is inverted by the visuals. What is his cunning plan, one wonders.

The smart move, of course, is to listen with ears not eyes and worry not that for the Shostakovich – memorably done – Franck was almost sitting with the second violins and violas, which meant he craned his neck to see the firsts and cellos.

In previous visits to London, Franck has shown a propensity for spacious tempos – an outsize Sibelius One that didn’t convince, and a remarkable Mahler Five that would have struggled to make it on to a single CD. Yet the latter was never suggestive of being particularly slow (the Sibelius seemed interminable, though), which belies the use of timings. This Shostakovich 10 was ‘normal’ in this respect, yet every page was stamped with individuality.

The opening Moderato immediately opened up a world of searching disquiet, a flicker of life, of impending rage, a gradual, almost imperceptible increase of pulse and emotion. The scherzo was probably too fast if implacably controlled, a cauldron of seething drive. Throughout, Franck fired-up contrasts, sometimes reversing processes (without ever losing the line) and personalising the journey with particular use of legato and rhythmic subtlety, and disrupting the surface enough to add further conjecture to an already ambiguous statement. And what immaculate balance, the young (mid-20s) Finn’s nationality made evident with his ear for translucent textures (brass reined-in).

Franck’s handling of the third movement was revelatory, music that can hang fire, but here a fine balancing act between forced dance and introspection (marked tempo changes) made for engrossing listening. So too the ruminations of the finale’s slow introduction, Christopher Cowie’s intense oboe solo catching the mood ideally (just as Barnaby Robson’s clarinet soliloquy had done in the first movement). From these depths to a jump for joy, although you don’t really know if the composer meant it, and Franck wasn’t saying either. He implied ‘manufacture’. An engrossing interpretation, then, offering further confirmation of Franck’s singularity. The Philharmonia was wonderfully responsive.

Individuality was sadly lacking in the concerto – Simon Trpčeski introduced himself with a dispiriting ‘empty gesture’ and proceeded to prove himself a fine pianist, if one with seemingly no interest or affection for this pleasurable piece beyond negotiating the notes. Although he delicately accommodated orchestral solos, and didn’t bang away, his was a forced-through approach (the finale was tightly fast) that was rarely magical. When he did effect charm it was rather utilitarian, as was the rhetoric. Franck opened the concert with an exuberant and touching account of the rarely heard overture to Sibelius’s Karelia music; a warm handshake with Finnish history and folklore.

Mikko Franck conducts the Philharmonia at the RFH on the 13th in two ever-popular Tchaikovsky scores and Viktoria Mullova in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 (also in Leicester on the 12th with Shostakovich 10).

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