Philharmonia Orchestra Concert – 3rd March

Overture – Leonore No.2
Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36

Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 3 March, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Although the absence of Wolfgang Sawallisch for the first part of his three-season Philharmonia Orchestra traversal of Beethoven’s symphonies, concertos and Missa solemnis is a grievous loss, the show must go on. It did so in fine style under Sir Charles Mackerras. He will conduct the ‘Eroica’ this Thursday. (Replacement conductors remain to be announced for the RFH concerts on the 12th and 14th.)

Mackerras’s keen theatrical instincts informed the second of the three Leonore overtures; this one prefaces Leonore itself, the opera that became Fidelio. Pregnant with anticipation from the off, Mackerras moved the overture through its potency with dramatic thrust; his relishing of incident and import made for engrossing listening. Antiphonal violins, and double basses in a line across the back of the platform (eight for the overture, six for the symphonies), aided Mackerras’s quest for airy textures.

Presumably Mackerras played the Second Symphony before No.1 to avoid sameness of key signatures – both the overture and Symphony No.1 are in C major. In his directness, business-like even, Mackerras’s ‘historical awareness’ was to the fore in these urbane renditions that fizzed with detail. In both symphonies Sir Charles was light-footed, but one could never accuse him of being metronomic. Despite the fleetness, there was light and shade, energy and pensiveness, strength and gentleness, and a drive that never rebutted expressive curves.

With all repeats in place (including twice-through again for scherzo da capos), vivid woodwind and brass, and crisp timpani, the highlight of an eventful concert was No.2’s finale, taken at a whirlwind tempo, which brought playing that was wonderfully articulate, unanimous and buoyant.

This sparkling evening couldn’t have begun this Beethoven cycle any more winningly; no doubt too that Sir Charles’s insights and brio enthused the Philharmonia Orchestra as much as they delighted the audience.

  • This Thursday, 7 March, Mackerras conducts the ‘Eroica’ and Murray Perahia plays Piano Concerto No.1
  • Box Office: 020 7960 4201
  • Other Beethoven concerts on 12 and 14 March – conductors to be announced

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