Philharmonia/Ashkenazy Barbara Bonney

Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Concert Arias:
L’amerò, sarò costante, K208
Voi avete un cor fedele, K217
Non più, tutto ascoltai … Non temer, amato bene, K490
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.54

Barbara Bonney (soprano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 29 November, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

If Mozart and Shostakovich didn’t necessarily make a satisfying pairing, as such, here, Vladimir Ashkenazy’s conducting of the Haffner Symphony was wholly beguiling: robust, expressive and warm, overall, and elegant in the Andante and deft and dynamic in the finale. Throughout, balance was well judged, especially so in allowing oboe comments, tripping bassoons, and timpani interjections, to contribute with just the right degree of pertinence.

Shostakovich’s three-movement Sixth Symphony was first heard in Leningrad in 1939 under Yevgeny Mravinsky. Two short fast movements balance the expansive and emotional opening Largo; it was in these supposedly happy and high-spirited movements that this performance was least convincing. Taken at face value both are plain-sailing and it may be all too easy to read, or try to read, something ‘hidden’ and ambiguous into them. Ashkenazy sped through both in rigid fashion, doing neither justice – the second was without edge and glower (although the various solos were brilliantly taken) and the finale (its rhythms have been likened to the ‘gallop’ that closes the William Tell overture) was pressed ahead in mechanical fashion: if Ashkenazy was making the point that Shostakovich was composing under duress, and currying favour with the authorities, then he succeeded.

Yet from the intense and moulded way Ashkenazy opened the symphony, grand and heroic, an epic account seemed on the cards. Not so, for a quickening of pace slightly unsettled the whole, and although there was depth of utterance, and vulnerability, that last degree of pathos and chill wasn’t apparent enough to sustain this ‘broad’ movement.

In between, Barbara Bonney brought rich tone and exact pitch to three of Mozart’s concert arias, the first the most engaging, the other two, for whatever reason (too long, maybe), reaching a point of tedium; it would be difficult to take issue with the artistry on offer, not least James Clark’s violin solos (and he had a lot to do!), but it was all rather ephemeral.

Earlier, as a pre-concert recital, at 6 o’clock, members of the Philharmonia Orchestra had played pieces by the same combination of composers, with flautist Paul Edmund-Davies proving a most engaging host. Four Waltzes by Shostakovich (clarinet, flute/piccolo and piano) were pleasant enough (charming or trite, depending on your point of view) and one of Mozart’s Flute Quartets (in D, K285) was delightfully done, Edmund-Davies bringing a wealth of detail to his playing, the string trio a perfect complement. The first movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet (with Mark van de Weil, and Gideon Robinson as second violin, who had earlier turned the pages for pianist Marco Fatichenti in the Shostakovich) was disappointingly foursquare and hasty (the lack of an exposition repeat a blessing!). However, the slow movement was suitably sublime, and rather chaste, and followed by an up-tempo minuet. The finale’s episodes were tellingly characterised. All in all, a fine showcase for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s chamber music credentials. Those musicians not mentioned so far were Justin Jones (first violin), Rebecca Chambers (viola) and Katharine Wood (cello).

The ‘main’ concert is played again on 1 December, and the appetiser then will be Vladimir Ashkenazy in conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content