Philharmonia Orchestra/Dohnányi Lars Vogt

Schoenberg
Chamber Symphony No.1, Op.9
Schumann
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Brahms
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Lars Vogt (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi


Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 4 February, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Schoenberg on a concert programme can put a lot of people off, especially if the opus number is a late one! However, when any music is played with conviction, as Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1 was here, it is an important reminder that every piece of music deserves to be listened to and judged on its own merits.

Schoenberg later revised this 15-musician piece for symphony orchestra, which, if used here, would have taken everything that I enjoyed about this performance: the music’s intimacy and the opportunity for the Philharmonia’s principals to display some excellent playing. The transitional passage that leads to the Adagio was played with great fluency, which allowed the calm shores to be reached in a very contemplative way. The final section made for a lively contrast and in which a visibly energised Christoph von Dohnányi brought out a colourful, vibrant and impassioned conclusion.

In 1845, after several abortive attempts at a piano concerto during the 1830s, Schumann added two movements to an earlier Fantasy and this concerto was born. Its first performance, conducted by Mendelssohn, was given on New Year’s Day in 1846 by Schumann’s heavily pregnant wife, Clara. To her great disappointment the piece was received poorly but within a few years it had gained wide popularity.

Lars Vogt launched himself into what initially suggested itself as a potentially humdrum affair. However, he quickly established himself with some delightfully delicate and precise playing and was superbly supported by an expansive and lush orchestral sound; there was real co-operation between soloist and conductor. In the integrated cadenza there was obvious passion and the ‘Intermezzo’ then blossomed and the audience held its collective breath right up to the well-managed transition into the finale, its momentum maintained to the end, with Dohnányi dancing most of the way there!

The performance of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony confirmed what a towering masterpiece it is – a reading of accuracy and fidelity notable for richness of sound and intensity. In the first movement, the moment of contemplation in the bars marked ppp prior to the recapitulation was spot-on, and allowed for respite before the urgency and struggle of the powerful coda. The announcement of the second movement by the horns was very thoughtful, as were contributions from timpanist Andrew Smith and, especially, David Cohen, who led the cellos with distinction.

The lightning-flash that heralds the scherzo allowed for some comedic, well-timed triangle-playing along with graceful oboe and clarinet offerings. The finale, a passacaglia, was played in line with Brahms’s mastery; the invention with which he produces 32 Variations was utterly mesmerising and riveting. The passion and energy of the movement was announced at the very start on the trombones and sustained – all under the careful attention of Dohnányi who can be very proud of his achievements with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

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