Philharmonia Mackerras

Taras Bulba
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60

Joshua Bell (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 June, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Sir Charles Mackerras’s association with Czech music is a long and distinguished one. Indeed, his substantial discography has recently been swelled by Czech Philharmonic recordings of Janáček (Supraphon SU 3739-2, 2 CDs), which includes Taras Bulba, and Dvořák 6 (SU 3771-2).

This concert with the Philharmonia, Mackerras is the Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, formed part of the ongoing “Dvořák / Janáček Series” and proved to be enthralling. Taras Bulba was given a comprehensive workout, its volatility, danger, rawness, quirkiness and tenderness given full-value; Mackerras, having got to the music’s soul with urgent conviction, played his trump-card at the close by finding an extra fortissimo for the organ-supported clangour.

The last time I heard Joshua Bell live was in a throbbing, glossy, externally applied account of Bruch’s G minor concerto. On this occasion he was on an altogether higher plane and addressed the Brahms with intrinsic musicianship, bravura technique underlining his warm, simply phrased, sometimes visceral performance where virility and ardour were in tandem. The slow movement, Christopher Cowie’s peerless oboe solo a moment to treasure, seemed an extended love-song, and the Hungarian finale was a joy of point and articulation. Bell’s own cadenza for the first movement was a winner too, alternately dreamy and ripe, a nod to Bach and to Joachim’s usually-played cadenza. Mackerras, now baton-less, had set the perfect scene with a flowing introduction, a leaner, swifter Brahms than ‘tradition’ would have it.

It’s something of a mystery that Dvořák’s earlier symphonies are not given more of an airing; numbers 7-9 are played regularly, and while they are marvellous works, so too are the 5th and 6th; indeed, all nine symphonies have memorable features. No.6 does get more of a look-in, though. Mackerras has an ear for Czech inflexions, and this performance positively bounced along while being alive to darker and variable aspects. The fields and forests of Bohemia came alive, Mackerras (remaining baton-less) broadening the tempo to highlight exultancy and driving the Slavonic rhythms with certainty; the Philharmonia’s response was a joyful one, an appreciation of Dvořák’s consummate writing. Maybe the Philharmonia will now ask Mackerras to conduct Dvořák 5.

Mackerras leads Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass on the 28th (Birmingham) and 29th – expect to hear some extra music added to Paul Wingfield’s edition (Mackerras has recorded this on Chandos CHAN 9310). As Mackerras said to this writer recently, having given the first performance of Wingfield’s enterprise, he is now giving the premiere of “the revision of the reconstruction of the original.”

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