Philharmonia/Jordan Till Fellner

Overture to Coriolan
Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat, K482
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Till Fellner (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Philippe Jordan

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 28 October, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

A good old-fashioned overture-concerto-symphony concert. Familiar music, familiarly played, and conducted with lucidity by Philippe Jordan; yet despite a baton technique that seems unambiguous, ensemble frayed occasionally, despite two previous outings for this programme (Croydon and Leicester), and one more was due the following afternoon (Bedford).

Jordan, son of the recently deceased conductor Armin Jordan, led perfectly fine accounts of the Beethoven and Brahms works, but with little inspiration. The overture to Coriolan (Heinrich von Collin’s rather than Shakespeare’s) initially caught the ear with a trenchant bass line and some closely observed detail, and Jordan’s expressive shaping of the consoling theme that emerges as the ‘second subject’ was very affecting. But this was an arm’s-length account, keeping the music’s volcanic force under wraps. And such objectivity did for the Brahms from the very opening – nothing tragic here, no dark forces to overcome. Jordan led a traditional, rather neutral account – with speed fluctuations in the time-honoured places – a generally spacious approach that hung fire, especially in the Andante sostenuto second movement that was momentarily ‘saved’ by Gordon Hunt’s oboe solos and James Clark’s eloquent contribution on the violin.

Otherwise, there was no little beyond some well-honed textures, although timpani could be too prominent; the well-ordered presentation of notes-on-the-page really isn’t enough for a work as titanic as Brahms 1 … guts, sinew, a sense of striving – these were absent, although Jordan is one of relatively few conductors who keep the motto theme ‘in tempo’ on its blazing return in the triumphant coda – it makes the world of difference.

The most interesting performance was the Mozart, and even this was not a runaway success. For all this concerto’s grandness, Jordan sometimes conspired it as precious; it has grace to be sure – well captured here – and it has ceremony, too, which was less in evidence. Till Fellner played with decorum and shape, and with welcome demonstration, too, but there was some meddling with tempo in the first movement. The opening of the Andante stood out – hushed and secretive – and the woodwinds made a wonderful contribution, as they did also in the serenade-like episode in the finale in which Fellner found a wry sense of humour, something no doubt appreciated by Alfred Brendel, a member of the audience. Fellner chose (or perhaps wrote) fine cadenzas for the outer movements (if Mozart wrote his down, they haven’t survived), but their authorship wasn’t identified in the programme.

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