Symphony No.80 in D minor
Piano Concerto in D
Cello Concerto in C
Symphony No.103 in E flat (Drum Roll)
Miklós Perényi (cello)
András Schiff (piano)
Reviewed by: Dave Paxton
Reviewed: 25 June, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra, marking the bi-centenary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s death was a thrilling, if ultimately fatiguing affair, the ‘Drum Roll’ Symphony ending the evening in a blaze of Herculean contrapuntal glory, András Schiff unleashing the ensemble dynamic thrillingly.
Hector Berlioz said this of Haydn’s symphonic style: “it comes forward modestly, its look is respectful; it hardly dares raise its voice, it creeps around; it resigns itself in advance to passing unnoticed, and is full of gratitude to the honourable listeners who wish to hear it.” Schiff swayed the balance in the opposite direction: here was attention-grabbing Haydn. It wasn’t loud or ostentatious, but rather that Schiff illuminated so many lines, motifs and hidden intricacies in the four works that one was continually, relentlessly arrested – even if, by the end, I felt that I had heard a couple too many perfect cadences.
The least successful item was the Cello Concerto. The orchestra was admirable, unthreading a gently refined pulse to support the soloist, in the Adagio especially. Miklós Perényi brought lyricism to the unfolding legato lines and gruffness to the double-stopping – his was a balanced reading, full of contrast. However, the cello tone could become sour near the top of its register, and its timbre, up at the heights, occasionally grated. There was, however, recompense in the faster music, Perényi attacking the fiendish figurations and racing melodic passages with precision and tireless energy.
The first half of the concert was sunny – in delivery if not in mood. The D minor Symphony opened with tumultuous tidal waves on the strings (always kept within Classical proportions!), the double basses, slightly lost in the texture, drove the ensemble forward with fierce lines. The emergence of the first movement’s fleeting lyrical theme was highly evocative: one sensed the Apolline emerging from the orgiastic Dionysiac, Schopenhauer’s fragile boatman sailing on the terror of the Will. The antiphonal violins worked wonders throughout, especially in the Adagio, the Firsts taking the soaring lyrical theme, the Seconds subtly attacking their arresting agitated counter-motifs. By way of contrast, the horn-brushed Trio in the third-movement Minuet provided textural warmth
The Piano concerto was a glorious success. The piano was positioned, bizarrely, amid the orchestra so that the Leader had to look behind him to see Schiff’s conducting. Nevertheless, the ensemble remained taut – poised – and the dialogues between piano and orchestra were delicious. Schiff made clear his love of the music, turning the cadenza into a semi-comic showpiece, complete with flailing arms and bouncing torso.
Sunday 28 June, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30 p.m. – András Schiff conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in Mendelssohn
Philharmonia Orchestra information:
Freephone 0800 652 6717