Philharmonia Orchestra/Dohnányi [Oberon Overture … Rhenish Symphony … Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays the Emperor Concerto]

Oberon – Overture
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.97 (Rhenish)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 17 February, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Christoph von DohnányiThe exposed writing that opens the Overture to “Oberon” provides quite a test for a conductor. Here, aided by the warmth, bloom, and assurance of Estefania Beceioro’s horn-playing, and quality contributions from the wind section, Christoph von Dohnányi expressively conjured up the magical aspect of Weber’s fairy world. In the more tender sections of the piece, the silken quality of the antiphonal violins, the richness of the lower strings, and the truly mellifluous quality of Mark van der Wiel’s clarinet, offered many pleasures. And the brass was resplendent. Even so, an insufficiency of heroic zest in the allegro and in the coda meant that the music’s dramatic potential was not wholly realized; yet as a vehicle for displaying the virtuoso qualities and sensitivity of the Philharmonia Orchestra the performance was impressive.

Although Dohnányi’s reading of Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony was strong on lyricism, it was not as satisfying in terms of structure. Lovely as much of the playing was in the first movement – the string lines clarified very strikingly, for example – the whole did not cohere convincingly, and with an insufficient sense of forward movement the music tended to sag. More successful was the second movement, which had an infectious gait: rustic horns cut through the texture delightfully, and the wind-playing was full of character, especially Christopher Cowie on oboe. Although the central movement was full of charm, the fourth dragged and lacked appropriate ‘Cologne Cathedral’ splendour. The exuberant finale was all light and joy, however, and the burnished quality and brio of the brass made a striking contribution, notably in the brilliant closing pages.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. ©J Henry-FairThe performance of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto was somewhat lacklustre. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has received plaudits for his recording of Bartók’s piano concertos as well as pieces from the French repertoire, but he seemed less than ideally suited to Beethoven’s concerto, and less than technically reliable at several significant moments. The accompaniment in the first movement lacked the momentum and granite-like strength to achieve a full sense of grandeur; and the poetic depths of the Adagio seemed lost on Bavouzet: greater breadth and a more-veiled quality were needed. Only in the abandon of the finale did soloist and conductor produce involving results.

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