Philharmonia MOT & Frühbeck

C’est un jardin secret…
Hommage à Charles Nègre

Rachel Roberts (viola)

Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

El amor brujo
Noches en los jardines de España
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2

Josep Colom (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 12 February, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Philharmonia Orchestra concerts sometimes come as pairs – the 6 p.m. one that lives up to its billing, Music of Today, preceding the main one. The two this evening worked especially well. A feature of MOT, firmly established over 10-plus years, is the thought and dedication behind it and that it couldn’t be easier to attend – this is a free, no-ticket, walk-in, sit-where-you-like series. Usually it’s one composer featured and attending; this time the creators were linked by Spectral Music (a 1970/80s’ occupation), a French ’school’ including Tristan Murail, Hugues Dufourt and the late Gérard Grisey. Dufourt was on hand to converse with Julian Anderson, MOT’s Artistic Director (and no relation to the writer).

Spectral Music might be termed of being of sound and science, and anti-permutation. Murail’s C’est un jardin secret… is a 7-minute viola solo from 1976 beginning on the merest bow/string connection that expands to an intensity reminiscent of Bartók. Dufourt’s Hommage à Charles Nègre gives four woodwind players the range between piccolo and contrabassoon, slow-moving chords decorated and punctuated by marimba and electric guitar that seem timbrally pre-occupied for 10 minutes until the final cadence signals a ’musical’ ending.

The longest work, at 16 minutes, was Talea, like Hommage from 1986; it’s music concerned with attack and resonance; energy, fluidity and activity is central to the argument, one dominated by what might be termed ’the harmony of timbre’. Martyn Brabbins and the Philharmonia musicians and guests did the music proud, as ever. The next London MOT is 6 April, three works by Dai Fujikura.

Such concern for sound made the link to Falla and Ravel a natural one. It’s been a while since Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos has visited London. Our loss! Hopefully the Philharmonia, long associated with Frühbeck, will now make his visits more regular. Put simply, his unobtrusive presence on the podium, allied to a lucid stick technique, brings the music to life in the most alluring and glowing way. If this programme was a bit typecast – all four works are firmly in Frühbeck’s memory – it was an evening of memorable performances. Love, the Magician has been put upon by conductors who can’t resist the fast/loud/aggressive approach that makes Falla the fall guy. Frühbeck, the Philharmonia, ever chameleon-like, responding with warmth, rhythmic acumen, and sensitivity, found the likeable side to this music, its malleable and caressing aspects, its atmosphere and unforced vitality. The same is equally true of Nights, not really a piano concerto. Josep Colom, his integration and indigenous appreciation a pleasure in itself, left Frühbeck and the Philharmonia to weave more magic.

A better ordering for these works would have been Boléro – Brujo – Nights – Daphnis: that way Falla’s nocturnal impressions would have segued nicely into Daphnis’s daybreak, and the associations between Falla, Ravel (and Debussy) would have been suggested even more; passages of Nights share similar terrain to Debussy’s La mer and Jeux (both, incidentally, in the Philharmonia’s RFH concert on 19 February with Ashkenazy!). And Boléro makes a good concert-opener, certainly when dispatched in a (convincing) quick-step 13 minutes, Frühbeck building the crescendo without vulgarity, Kevin Hathway’s side drum processional impassive and unfailingly accurate. Maybe Daphnis was the highlight, a seamless, flowing version, Kenneth Smith’s peerless flute solo a notable strand, that made the episodes indivisible and the scenario palpable.

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