Philharmonia Orchestra – 23rd May

Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Till Fellner (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 23 May, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

A performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto well-integrated between soloist and orchestra – yet muted. The Brahms concertos are often described as difficult rather than showy, more remarkable for musical imagination than virtuosity, and this was clearly the approach of both Fellner and Daniel. After a pleasingly shaped, civilised opening, Fellner’s entry was appropriate rather than dominating, and also curiously matter-of-fact. Fellner seemed most at home when combining his playing with orchestral textures – the bridge passage and his ornamentation of the orchestral version of the second subject were especially impressive. He was clearly equal to the technical demands of the work, but the performance was far from clean. As for Daniel, he drew fine playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra, creating a sound-world in which horns and clarinets were prominent.

Fellner’s slow movement was meditative, chorale-like, and generally successful, but far from exceptional, apart from a winning conclusion; the ’Finale’ was quite deliberate and low-key, although he rose to the virtuosic challenge of the coda. The fugato section of the ’Finale’ exemplified the performers’ approach – the orchestral opening neat and well played, the piano entry perfectly balanced, but neither making the pulse race. On this evidence, I look forward to hearing Till Fellner most in chamber music.

Paul Daniel showed that the qualities he had brought to Brahms were not one-off. Janacek’s Jealousy is rarely heard. It was originally intended as the prelude to Jenufa, and is largely based on a Moravian folk-song, but was removed as having no musical connection with the remainder of the opera. Both in this, and in Dvorak’s Seventh symphony, however, Daniel was more a scene-setter, a conductor of precision and of atmosphere, than as a master of Czech idiom or Slavonic fire. Retrospectively, he had been an ideal partner for Fellner’s understated playing.

In the symphony, Daniel did not make much of the initial contrast between the hushed beginning and the leaping chords that followed; this was Brahmsian Dvorak, not unfitting, but intensity was dampened. The slow movement was pleasant if unemotional with even the typically Dvorak fail-safe ’Scherzo’ failing to catch fire. So with the ’Finale’, in perfect proportion, but lacking star quality or excitement.

  • The Philharmonia Orchestra returns to the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday 30 May – music by Grieg, Sigurbjörnssen and Sibelius conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy
  • RFH Box Office: 020 7960 4201
  • Philharmonia Orchestra Box Office: 0800 652 6717 (freephone)

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