Hansel and Gretel Overture [opening chorale arr. Kirschen]
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra
Five Aspects [two movements]
Festmusik der Stadt Wien
Cormac Ó Haodáin, Laurence Davies & Nigel Black (horns)
Tim Thorpe (horn) & Hugh Webb (harp)
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77
Sergey Khachatryan (violin)
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 27 June, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
The evening began with a Memorial Concert for Oliver Green, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Fourth Horn who died suddenly last 29 November (shortly after a concert), aged 29. Aptly, and with dignity, eight horn-players, conducted by colleague Nigel Black, intoned the opening measures of the overture to “Hansel and Gretel”. David Corkhill (the orchestra’s principal percussionist) conducted the rest of the programme, which continued with Stewart Green’s Concerto written for his son Oliver as a 21st-birthday present (which he premiered in 2002), its three movements shared here between Messrs Ó Haodáin, Davies and Black. A very English-sounding piece, even in the first movement Viennese-waltz measures, and especially so in the string writing of the elegiac middle movement. The syncopated frolics of the finale offered lighter-hearted contrast. The two movements by Jean-Michel Damase, for horn and harp, delighted the ear, and Richard Strauss’s Festmusik (for 21-brass, if including but one horn, and timpani) made a solemn and jubilant conclusion. A collection was made on behalf of the Oliver Green Memorial Fund.
The ‘main’ concert, which regrettably followed the general trend nowadays of dispensing with an ‘overture’, started ‘cold’ with the Shostakovich concerto. Nevertheless, this immediately became a compelling performance. The Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan (born 1985) brings a natural intensity to this introspective and barbed work, an innate appreciation of its inner core. Without visual histrionics or applied throbbing, he opened up the work’s expressive potential without ever imposing on it, his superb technique and variety of tone and dynamics serving and bringing alive the music in the most commanding way. Aided and abetted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos’s lucid conducting, the Philharmonia’s winds were constantly pertinent contributors (not least bassoons and tuba in the third movement passacaglia), Khachatryan made the solo part ‘his’ without ever usurping the composer, the expansive cadenza linking the final two movements made utterly compelling as Khachatryan ‘stabbed’ at the speculative entreaties and grabbed the finale (‘Burlesque’) by the throat: no easy ride, this, and the quickening of pace towards the end seemed more ‘running scared’ than a scamper for victory: probably apposite and a measure of Khachatryan’s seeking of ‘musical truth’. (His recordings of both of Shostakovich’s concertos, with Kurt Masur conducting, are due in October on Naïve – and keenly anticipated.)
Frühbeck has a long association with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and if his London appearances are less these days than once was (he currently holds positions in Dresden and Turin), then he left us a memorable Mahler 1 until he graces London again. His genial demeanour and clarity of gesture (and with no score in the way to encumber contact) conjured Mahler’s youthful work (previously a symphonic poem) as pastoral and atmospheric, the emphasis very much on a thought-through overall trajectory (first movement repeat observed) yet with some ‘personal’ fluctuations of pace that both intrigued and convinced.
Neurosis-free (and therefore some might have felt short-changed that a ‘vital’ ingredient was missing), Frühbeck led a detailed account of the score, one with plenty of incident and colour. The scherzo (rightly) had a heavy, emphatic tread, and the trio contrasted it with lilt and languor. If the third movement ‘funeral march’ was hardly macabre, Frühbeck nevertheless revelled in the Klezmer-like dance episodes and the radiant interlude.
Less infernal than ‘normal’, the finale rode a wave of well-balanced vibration, the ‘love music’ tenderly shaped without being ‘heart on sleeve’ and the closing bars were wonderfully joyous. A shame that Frühbeck allowed or requested an unwritten timpani thwack on the final chord (although he’s far from being alone in this), but with the Philharmonia sounding as if it enjoyed every second, this rendition was a triumph.
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