Philharmonia of the Nations

Sibelius
Finlandia
Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Rachmaninov
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Chloë Hanslip (violin)

Philharmonia of the Nations
Justus Frantz


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 11 March, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

By one of life’s bitter ironies, this concert given by a unification orchestra of musicians from 40 countries and 5 continents, took place on the same day as the Madrid bombings. I was reminded of ’9/11’ – the Royal Albert Hall Prom that evening, which included an impromptu ‘Eroica funeral march’ conducted by Christoph Eschenbach who forms a celebrated piano-duo with Justus Frantz.

Made up of musicians in their 20s and 30s, the Philharmonia of the Nations contains some of the most outstanding young players one could ever hope to hear. This builds on the dream of Leonard Bernstein, and under Justus Frantz’s leadership the orchestra, one with no permanent home, has since given over 1,000 concerts around the world.

If one imagined that any allowances might have to be made, such thoughts were rapidly disabused by Finlandia’s opening brass chorale. Perfectly in tune, perfectly unanimous, this packed a mighty punch. Nor did the rest of the orchestra disappoint. The string section may be a couple of desks short – six double basses rather than eight and pro rata – but what may be lacked in numbers is certainly made-up for in quality and concord; the viola section was out of this world.

The highpoint was the Rachmaninov. Frantz’s beat is mercifully clear, his instincts are invariably musical and, above all, he elicits complete commitment from his orchestra. Two minor criticisms only of the Rachmaninov: the slow introduction could have been more seamless, and the first movement allegro was too fast, which restricted ebb and flow. That said, what wonderful playing, the strings using the full length of the bow; with tension held at the highest level, the movement’s climax, when it came, was cataclysmic. The Scherzo was taken headlong, strings flowering unforgettably in the great yearning second theme, and the Trio’s opening, which is a real test-piece for the second violins, found them not wanting. The heart of the symphony is the slow movement, launched here by a gloriously veiled and sensitive clarinet solo from Sebastien Aubrun – indeed the woodwind playing throughout was on the highest level – and the movement closed to a moment of pure magic, which faded into deepest silence. For once, the standing ovation that greeted the performance was fully deserved.

The Tchaikovsky concerto was rather less enthralling. For the most part Chloë Hanslip played the notes – no mean feat – but it was a distasteful performance. She pulled every phrase about mercilessly in the most unmusical fashion and one soon tired of her attention-seeking antics. The slow movement presents fewer opportunities for exhibitionism and so fared slightly better.

Hanslip aside, this was a quite outstanding concert, one which forcefully reminded of the sheer physical thrill of great music-making when heard live. There were three encores, all dances – one Hungarian, from Brahms, and two Slavonic, by Dvorák.

This was the kind of concert that one always hopes to find, but seldom does.

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