Philharmonia Mullova Segerstam

Bartók
Violin Concerto No.2
Bruckner
Symphony No.7 in E [Nowak Edition]

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Leif Segerstam


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 26 April, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The over-crowded schedule of Esa-Pekka Salonen saw Leif Segerstam directing the Philharmonia Orchestra in the advertised pairing.

Surprising to see Viktoria Mullova playing Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto from the score – as this is a work with which she has been much identified in recent years. Certainly there was nothing tentative or provisional about her interpretation, one with an effortless sense of line and a fastidious attention to detail that never detracted from larger formal issues. If the opening Allegro took most of the exposition to settle, it lacked nothing in flair or commitment – with the cadenza sounding more integral to the unfolding tonal argument than it often does. Despite some elegantly shaped detail, the variations that make up the central Andante had a slightly arbitrary follow-through. Not so thefinale – which, in its ingenious re-run of the opening movement’s content, can invoke a negative déjà vu, but which here intensified its formal reworking of material as surely as it channelled it towards very different expressive ends. Mullova continues to opt for the earlier, orchestra-only conclusion, a selfless gesture on her part, but the Zoltán Székely-inspiredend does have a formal conclusiveness beyond the considerationof mere virtuoso flourish.

Segerstam’s prowess in late-Romantic symphonic repertoire is hardly a secret, and his account of Bruckner Seven was a distinguished one; if more for the lucidity and sense of rightness with which the expansive architecture is unfolded than for any interpretative revelations – musical or otherwise.

The Philharmonia played with a mellow, burnished tone right for this performance, which was at its finest in an unforced account of the Adagio which built steadily but effortlessly to its apex (in which percussion was included, though hardly intrusively), and found a pensive gravity in the coda to make of it a universal – not just Wagnerian – memorial. The scherzo, lively but never recklessly so and with a delightful pastoral trio, was equally of a piece – and if the outer movements were marginally less convincing, this was more to do with what Segerstam chose not to impose on the musical argument in terms of its gathering of symphonic energy. Save, however, for uncharacteristically rough-toned playing in the finale’s stark chorale theme, the brass never overreached its collective self, and how good to hear Wagner tubas properly contrasted with horns so that the layered tuttis evinced depth as well as attack. Good, too, to hear Segerstam outside the Nordic repertoire he is usually called upon to conduct in the UK. MoreBruckner performances from this partnership would be welcome.



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