Philharmonia Orchestra/Dohnányi Angela Hewitt [Mozart, Schubert & Beethoven]

Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K467
Symphony No.8 in B minor (Unfinished)
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Angela Hewitt (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 5 December, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Christoph von DohnányiA slightly farcical start. The running order changed at the top to allow time to find a replacement for a broken instrument required for the Schubert. Then with the piano hastily moved into position and Angela Hewitt duly summoned, Christoph von Dohnányi found his score for the Mozart was missing. More delay.

Angela Hewitt. ©Peter HundertWhen proceedings eventually got underway, Hewitt, such a celebrated interpreter of Bach, showed how ably she is able to turn her hands to Mozart with a performance that was for the most part full of poise and artistry as well as refreshingly free of mannerism of any kind. The first movement had a keen sense of purpose and moved along gracefully, Hewitt’s own cadenza, sparkling variations of the first movement’s themes, was perfectly in keeping with her approach. The famous (“Elvira Madigan”) Andante was on the cool side of Romantic and delicately articulated. The finale was slightly disappointing, lacking a degree of wit and sparkle not helped by a less than inspired response from conductor and orchestra.

Maybe the change in the running order had something to do with it but Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was about as leaden and pedestrian as one could imagine. Clocking in at almost 16 minutes, the first movement was taken very slowly, but the complete absence of tension made it feel endless. The second movement followed a similar path, the Philharmonia players seemingly struggling with their solos because of the slow tempo, the music almost coming to a halt halfway through. Dohnányi downplayed the contrast between passages of warm lyricism and outbursts of despair which accentuated the dirge-like effect.

Beethoven’s Fifth was played pretty straight. Apart from the opening four-note motif taken in strict tempo, this was a rather old-fashioned weighty interpretation, but at least some sense of urgency was restored after the lacklustre Schubert. The first movement proceeded at a steady tempo, the transparency of sound helped by antiphonal violins. The Andante was nicely phrased, the scherzo a little rushed, but the transition into the finale was superbly managed, the movement itself blazing with conviction.

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