Philharmonia Boreyko Schmid

Mussorgsky arr. Rimsky-Korsakov
Night on the Bare Mountain
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Benjamin Schmid (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Andrey Boreyko

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 17 February, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain revealed from the outset the defining characteristics of both Andrey Boreyko’s conducting and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s response in this unashamedly populist concert. For the Mussorgsky, a suave, almost narcissistic podium style aimed (vertically speaking) at the clear imbrication of components within the musical fabric and (horizontally speaking) a punchy, rhythmically precise delineation of periods and paragraphs. For the remainder of the pieces, a lush string-sound and beautifully balanced harmonies from the woodwinds and brass sections marred by wooden solos and sloppy ensemble. I felt, throughout most of the evening, as though Boreyko were asking the orchestra merely to join the dots: tremendous if vulgar climaxes without much transpiring in between.

And the dissonance between conductor and orchestra was only compounded by violinist Benjamin Schmid, who seemed to be applying performance-practice principles to the overt Romanticism of Bruch’s G minor Concerto by throwing every mannerism one could think of at the music without penetrating its substance. Indeed, Schmid’s facial and bodily contortions (which certainly added nothing to the interpretation) were risible. The first movement was emphatic, ersatz heart-on-sleeve, the orchestra participating, so to speak, in the lack of involvement by relegating itself to a mere accompanist. A nice transition to the Adagio served only to expose Schmid’s unvarying and obtrusive vibrato in ‘that’ melody; the finale exhibited a well-judged pulse but remained merely inoffensive at best.

The less said about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony the better. The first movement exhibited a striving for clarity on the part of Boreyko, but again I found myself in the midst of a climax while wondering exactly how I got there; the Andante cantabile was beset by unimaginative solos and loose ensemble (the pizzicatos in particular); the expected lightness of the Waltz just wasn’t there; and the finale was a strange mixture of matter-of-fact statements, clipped phrases, brash brass and timpani, and an altogether surprising lack of cohesion.

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