Philharmonia Orchestra/Dudamel Boris Berezovsky

Helios – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Boris Berezovsky (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Gustavo Dudamel

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 15 February, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Gustavo Dudamel is hot property. Born in 1981, he has an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon and has issued a CD of Beethoven symphonies with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra from his native Venezuela and has been appointed Principal Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra with effect from the 2007/08 season.

For his Helios Overture of 1903 inspired by the sun-god in his heaven-storming chariot, Nielsen prefaced his score, “Silence and darkness – then the rising sun with a joyous song of praise – it wanders on its golden way – and sinks quietly into the sea.” The bare simplicity of the work’s opening and close were breath-catching, with muted horn calls, soft and mellow – as one would expect from the Philharmonia Orchestra. Hushed strings underpinned the silvery dawn and dusk. The middle section, with fuller orchestra and more complex writing, lost its way. The jubilation had volume, but failed to make sense of Nielsen’s demand for dynamic variation – as if riding the sky had a switchback momentum.

Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto was done rather splendidly. Boris Berezovsky set the tone and momentum with his opening passage – played as it sounds best, with gentle forward thrust, all the time in the world and in one amazing, slightly nervous, extended phrase. This feat was unaided by the strings. They accompanied Berezovsky over-discreetly (presumably under Dudamel’s instruction) rather than as his agitated, febrile partner. The orchestral second subject had great power. The Intermezzo: Adagio was similar. Berezovsky played his opening spot exquisitely; his soft vulnerability gleamed in rapt pain. The rich tremor on the violas followed by passionate yearning from the violins brought high emotion, in blazing dramatic splendour. Three times, indeed, the music asks the orchestra to cry out. The panache was memorable each time – and just slightly vulgar. The finale had vitality and spurt. It also, unusually, had structure. This was largely Berezovsky’s doing. By following every shift of mood, phrase and tone with extraordinary insight, sensitivity and subtlety, Berezovsky coaxed the movement into shape.

The Sibelius was empty but exciting. Dudamel offered a miscellany of musical phrases, mostly no more than a few bars long – in a non-series of discrete sound-bursts, often raucous and exotic, as if perched high among South American trees, colourfully. At no point was there any sense of Sibelius being a master of sustained development or of shrewdly judging his effects. Throughout the performance I was reminded of textile oddments, ready for assembly into a patchwork quilt. I heard no reason why these phrases should have been played in that particular order, except for the fact that the score happened to print them in this sequence. There was one exception: the transformation that occurs at the first movement’s upheaval held sustained interest, as if promising something musically more coherent to come. It didn’t arrive. The ending was riveting: those mighty, flamboyant pauses had me in suspense on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, the great brass chords were virtually weightless. What a waste!

  • Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in the QEH on 17 February at 7.30 – Rossini, Mendelssohn (Violin Concerto in E minor – Janine Jansen) and Dvořák
  • Southbank Centre
  • Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Philharmonia Orchestra information:
    Freephone 0800 652 6717

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