Philharmonia Orchestra Concert – 31st May

Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor
Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor

Arcadi Volodos (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne

Reviewed: 31 May, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Lorin Maazel has been conducting for over sixty years – starting when he was eight! His skill in seeking out music’s colours, textures and rhythms is undiminished; he doesn’t though always inquire its true meaning – as this performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony demonstrated.

The Fifth, although born out of Mahler’s love for Alma (his new wife), is the first to starkly record Mahler’s doubts and neuroses. Maazel’s doom-laden opening funeral march was broadly and emphatically paced, with plenty of tone and detail. The phantasmagoric scherzo was turned into a demented dance of death – a virtuoso display of conducting which fully stated Mahler’s orchestral depictions of the grotesque and attendant hallucinogenic mood-swings and violent contrasts. This was the lynchpin of Maazel’s interpretation – ably abetted by the Philharmonia, especially its horn and trumpet principals – a dazzling depiction of the disintegration of a whole way of life. Ravel’s La valse does not have the monopoly on portraying the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s collapse – and Mahler saw it coming; Ravel’s essay was retrospective.

Maazel’s approach to the ’Adagietto’, although slow, wasn’t overly emotional in the Bernstein mould; the Philharmonia’s strings – which displayed a lustrous sheen perfectly suited to Maazel’s approach – played it beautifully.

The finale was realised with flair and exuberance – but Maazel did not necessarily find the emotional core. His overtly virtuoso approach, an apparent desire to direct all sections of the orchestra at the same time, dealt comprehensively with the symphony’s technical aspects but not always the music’s metaphysical content.

The long queue for ’returns’ was no doubt partly due to an appearance by the much-feted Arcadi Volodos. The opening was auspicious – thunderous chords greeted the horns’ famous introductory fanfare. It would be good to report that the performance maintained the opening’s promise; alas, Volodos ploughed his way through, oblivious to Maazel and the orchestra, dialogue and interplay negated. Volodos has an immense technique of course, and he can play quietly, but he doesn’t appear to listen to what is going on around him.

  • Sunday 3 June, Lorin Maazel conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in Mozart’s A major Violin Concerto (Gil Shaham) and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony
  • The concert is preceded, at 6p.m, by Music of Today – new pieces by postgraduate students from the Royal Academy of Music – free admission to RFH
  • Box Office: 020 7960 4201
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