Philharmonia Enigma

Mahler arr. Britten
What the Wild Flowers Tell Me [Symphony No.3, second movement]
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
The Perfect Fool – Ballet Music
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

Min Lee (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 15 October, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

It was ironic that this concert should begin with Britten’s orchestral reduction of the second movement, a minuet, from Mahler’s Symphony No.3 when, in visual terms, the opposite was apparent with the Philharmonia in full array (including its normal eight double basses crammed into the shoe-box auditorium of the QEH). In sound-terms the orchestra produced lovely soft timbres but which failed to expand in louder passages.

Conversely, Min Lee had a real struggle to be heard in tutti passages during her gracious and well executed performance of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto. With a teaching lineage going back to Leopold Auer (the intended dedicatee of the work), Min Lee produced a beautiful legato with a touch of portamento in the slow movement, very much at one with the melodic thread being wound by the composer. She also demonstrated ample reserves in her stamina to galvanise the finale’s fireworks.

The orchestra was on splendid form throughout what appeared to be a disjointed programme with only one common strand: two of the four composers dying in the same year! Never mind – we could concentrate on the music instead of seeking the ‘thematic’ justifications that other programmers have adopted.

The two composers who died in the same year, Holst and Elgar, shared the concert’s second half. The ballet music that begins Holst’s opera “The Perfect Fool” was given a welcome performance under Brabbins’s watchful eye. The Elgar, too, was splendidly played. Brabbins’s tender opening was itself a little tone poem and each variation was carefully crafted to illustrate Elgar’s friends. The penultimate variation was perhaps the finest, with the softest of clarinet tones setting the scene for pure romance. The (ad lib) organ was missing at the nobilmente conclusion – but that is the price for having to give concerts in a hall whose stage resembles a film studio.

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